The Open Data Institute is inviting members of the public to help them discover, gain access to and photograph inherited artworks that should be available for public view. It is believed that across the UK alone there are tens of thousands of hidden works that are languishing in private collections.
So far, there are over 36,000 masterpieces that have been identified, with some on loan to galleries but many resting in homes across the country. The Open Data Institute is in the process of compiling a user-friendly database which allows art enthusiasts to search for their favourite artist or local area.
These artworks come under HMRC’s Conditional Exemption Incentive scheme, which means inheritance and capital gains tax can be avoided if the owner undertakes to make the work publicly available. HMRC have stated that access should be provided within four weeks of a request, with those who do not comply potentially finding themselves report to the authorities.
It is intended that the scheme will keep important works in Britain. The Institute hopes to get a nation of art-lovers involved in the initiative, asking them to contact the owners of the artworks requesting to see them.
Joseph Pugh, founder of Open Inheritance Art, commented: “These objects are the work of the world’s greatest artists and craftspeople and we want to bring them closer to the public. We’re calling upon art lovers to contact private owners through our website to arrange access and encourage a widescale digitisation of these important cultural assets.
“I'm always ready to let people see it but I can imagine that it is very difficult for others. If you were a widow and on your own, would you want people coming to your home?"
The extensive list of works ranges from paintings to books, drawings to furniture, and from sculptures to jewellery. It also includes works from artists such as Constable, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Moore and Hepworth.
According to the Open Data Institute, in London, the Scottish borders, Dorset and Birmingham there are privately-owned Picasso works and paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger located in North Wales, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
The Institute argues that these valuable objects are work of the world’s greatest artists and craftspeople and it wants to bring them closer to the public.
An HMRC spokesman said: "The conditional exemption scheme helps to ensure the UK’s world-leading national heritage is preserved for all to enjoy. Assets benefiting from the conditional exemption rules must be available to the public to enjoy on terms agreed by the owners with HMRC.
"We welcome the public getting in touch to let us know about problems accessing exempt assets. Owners must publish the access arrangements and abide by them."