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Acceptance in Lieu scheme brings a dozen new gifts to the nation

A Rubens drawing, 30 artworks by Walter Sickert and a note from Gandhi are among those helping settle tax bills

A stupendous drawing of Venus rising by Rubens, 30 artworks by Walter Sickert and a poignant note written by Gandhi that was his tacit approval for Indian partition are among a dozen artworks and archives now in the possession of the nation because of the 101-year-old Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

Hundreds of outstanding collections and artefacts have been given over the decades as a way of settling tax bills and the 12 newly revealed gifts represent a particularly good year for the scheme, said its senior adviser Gerry McQuillan.

"We're normally allowed to clear up to £20m tax in one year and this year we're bumping right up to it," he said. "It has been a good year."

The scheme was created in Lloyd George's people's budget of 1910 and is now administered by Arts Council England, dispersing gifts to galleries across the UK from Aberdeen to Cardiff to Southampton.

The jewel in the crown this year is a Rubens drawing that settles £4.4m in tax and will go on display at the National Gallery from Saturday before institutions are invited to apply for it. "I'm sure we'll be inundated with applications," said McQuillan. "It is exciting. It is a stunning drawing, the depth of it and the sophistication. It is one of the best Rubens drawings I've seen."

The illustration of the Roman goddess Venus rising from the sea is actually a design for an ivory salt cellar, albeit a spectacularly grand one that still exists and is in the Swedish royal collection.

Another highlight this year is the Mountbatten archive, which includes particularly important papers relating to Lord Mountbatten's time as the last British viceroy of India.

It includes letters, diaries, and photographs as well as a handwritten note from Gandhi. McQuillan said Mountbatten knew that partition could not happen unless Gandhi agreed but an answer was needed on a day that the Indian leader was not speaking – so he wrote a note that was interpreted as a yes.

"It is an incredibly poignant little bit of paper," said McQuillan. "It was taken as Gandhi's tacit approval and that gave the people there the courage to go forward."

The Mountbatten archive is vast by any standards, taking up 130 metres of shelf space at Southampton University where it has been on deposit. The plan is for it to remain there permanently.

Another archive, containing portraits, scientific instruments and star charts is being gifted to Greenwich Observatory, and relates to a man few have heard of but who was of huge importance in British shipping and naval history.

Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth astronomer royal between 1765 and 1811, was responsible for coming up with and publishing star charts that proved vital for navigators to establish their position, helping to make the British Royal and mercantile navy the envy of the world.

"Although he is not well known, what he achieved was absolutely crucial in making Britain the most important trading nation in the world," said McQuillan.

The gifts of art works also include: a collection of 30 Walter Sickert paintings, drawings and etchings put together by his patron Morton Sands, which will go to the Ashmolean in Oxford; a JMW Turner landscape painted on his first visit to Rome in 1920, which will go to the National Galleries of Scotland; and an early 16th century nativity scene by the Ferrara painter Il Garofalo, which is going to the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.

The newest piece is a late Barbara Hepworth sculpture from 1973 called Meditation which will go to Aberdeen Art Gallery, while the oldest by some distance is a piece of iron age metalwork – a large and beautifully preserved firedog from about 50BC-50AD which has been at the National Museum of Wales since the 1930s.

As well as art there is a Rococo sofa designed for the Palm room of Spencer House at the end of the 18th century, which will first go on display at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire before a permanent home is chosen; nine items of mostly 18th century glass all made in Newcastle going to the city's Laing art gallery; and an archive of the Wyndham family going to museums in Wiltshire and Somerset.

Farnham museum will receive a portrait of one the town's most famous sons, the 19th century radical journalist and agitator William Cobbett, settling £1,400 of tax. "That's the strength of this scheme," said McQuillan. "It is not just about the £4m masterpieces, it is also about works like this, which will give Farnham something that will bring to life a man closely associated with the town."

The arts minister Ed Vaizey said he had sat in on some of theAcceptance in Lieu scheme's panel sessions and been impressed. "It has been a successful year, there have been some great items that we've accepted but I think pretty much every year is good."

This year's announcement comes on the back of a long-campaigned for announcement by the Treasury earlier this month, when it announced it is to extend the scheme, allowing individuals to make donations and get tax relief during their lifetime. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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