Prince honours tycoon who saved £15m art

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A multimillionaire philanthropist from Yorkshire, who saved a collection of religious paintings for the Church of England, has been awarded a prestigious honour for his efforts.

Jonathan Ruffer bought 13 historic paintings from the Church for £15m, only to give them back to be put on public display.

The investment manager was one of six individuals recognised for their financial support of the arts by the Prince of Wales at a Clarence House reception yesterday.

The wealthy benefactors were each named as recipients of this year’s Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy.

Mr Ruffer, who was brought up in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, has made a reported £100m fortune from investment management, and predicted the credit crunch.

He had never seen the pictures by 17th century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, which depict the 13 sons of Jacob, before buying them in March. He described the award as a pleasant surprise.

Mr Ruffer said of the award: “The best things in life are totally unexpected and this one came very left field, so that’s lovely.”

The financial expert, who runs his own investment management company, said he went to see the Zurbarán paintings at their home Auckland Castle, County Durham, the day after news broke that he had bought them and added jokingly: “Luckily I liked them.”

The Church Commissioners, which look after the Church of England’s assets, faced criticism in the North East for putting the pictures up for sale, and a campaign was launched to make it reconsider. They had hung in Auckland Castle, the palace of the Bishop of Durham, for 260 years and represented a plea for religious tolerance.

Others receiving the award included Lloyd Dorfman, founder of foreign currency exchange firm Travelex, for his contribution to the National Theatre.