British Bank RBS Gets Ready to Peddle Its Paintings

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, the U.K. bank majority-owned by the government, said it may sell works from its in-house art collection that is worth as much as 15 million pounds ($24 million).

The lender, which has received 45.5 billion pounds in state aid in the world's most expensive bank bailout, is reviewing its collection to determine initially whether UK national museums wish to acquire any of the items.

The bank won European Union approval Dec. 14 for a restructuring plan. Under the plan, it has to get rid of 300 branches and insurance divisions over the next four years, spokeswoman Linda Harper said yesterday.

"We'll have less buildings, and less of a need for art that we've acquired," Harper said in a telephone interview. She said the bank was identifying works that national museums and galleries might want, "and if there's a surplus of art, we may look at disposals."

"No decisions have been taken yet, but we will not sell any pieces of art that are of heritage or of historical importance," said Harper. The works will be sold when a good price can be fetched for them on the art market, she said.

The bank says it has some 2,200 works of art worth more than 1,000 pounds, and another 1,500 or so limited-edition prints. The art collection grew in 2000 when RBS acquired National Westminster Bank Plc and incorporated the pieces in that collection.

One of the paintings that had been part of the NatWest collection, a work by Frank Auerbach, was sold two or three years ago, Harper said. According to the Scotsman newspaper, it sold for 780,000 pounds; Harper wouldn't confirm the figure.

The oldest work currently in the RBS collection dates from around 1750, and is Johann Zoffany's "Portrait of Andrew Drummond," founder of Drummonds, the Scottish lender, RBS said. Other pieces include Jack Vettriano's "Fish Teas" and L.S. Lowry's "At the Factory Gates," according to RBS. The collection is valued between 10 million pounds and 15 million pounds.

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