The National Gallery in London has said it faces a cash crisis unless the government gives it more money.
The National Gallery says it may have to further cut opening hours
National Gallery chairman Peter Scott said its core funding of £20.4m for 2003/04 was not enough to cover basic running costs.
He said the gallery may have to reduce opening hours because of shortages.
But a spokesman from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said tax cuts and extra funding had been agreed to help cover running costs.
Mr Scott made the plea for more money in London, after the gallery's annual spending review.
The gallery currently receives a total of £29.7m from the government and other sources but said its outward expenses equal exactly that amount - meaning there is no money spare for acquiring new paintings.
The gallery has been given money to save Madonna of the Pinks
Already the gallery has been forced to cut opening hours on its lower galleries, where the principal collection is held. There are now fears the lower galleries may be closed some days of the week.
It said it had been consistently underfunded since 1996.
In real terms its grant of £18.5m in 1995 should have been increased to £22.9m this year just to keep place with inflation, it added.
But a spokeswoman from the DCMS told BBC News Online: "The National Gallery is a well-funded organisation which, as a charity, can and does raise substantial funding from sources other than grant-in-aid.
"In addition the National Gallery has, since 1 April 2001, been able to recover its VAT on expenditure associated with free access," she said.
"This is worth at least an extra £1m per annum on top of grant-in-aid and much more in the case of capital development."
The DCMS said increases would total 1.5% in 2004/05, and 2.5% for 2005/06.
The spokeswoman also said the gallery had recently been given £11.5m to secure the purchase of the Raphael painting the Madonna of the Pinks, which was being offered to overseas buyers.
The gallery had said its visitors were down by 20% from the five million who came four years ago, which resulted in falling sales at its shops and restaurants.