The National Portrait Gallery has launched a pounds 1.6m fund- raising campaign to save for the nation a striking portrait of the poet and preacher John Donne.
The painting of Donne, who wrote poems of seduction and delivered gripping sermons, has been in the same family, the An-crams, for four centuries after it was bequeathed to them in Donne's will.
But the current Lord Lothian, the Tory MP Michael Ancram, is being forced to sell to meet liabilities from the estate of his father who died a year ago. The National Portrait Gallery has been given first refusal and five months to raise the cash. James Stourton, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe, which is representing the family, said they wanted it to go into a public collection if they had to sell. "But I know four or five collectors who would die to have it," he added. The portrait of Donne, the author of lines such as "no man is an island" and "for whom the bell tolls", is regarded by many scholars as the most important painting of any English poet. Probably dating from 1595, the artist is not known - as was common for that period. Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, said it would be a "catastrophe" if the painting were lost overseas. "It is self-evidently a very, very beautiful painting and Donne is one of the greatest poets writing in the English language. Let's buy it."
John Moses, the Dean …