A PREVIOUSLY unseen £2m painting has been saved for the nation after being acquired by Oxford’s Ashmolean museum.

The Beaumont Street museum has been given an 18th century painting of Venice by Italian painter Francesco Guardi.

It has been acquired thanks to the Arts Council England’s Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance scheme. Dating back to around 1758, the painting was created for a British tourist and shows Venice’s lagoon and the Island of San Michele.

Professor Christopher Brown, the director of the Ashmolean, said: “This painting brings to the Ashmolean a poetic masterpiece in which Francesco Guardi reveals his full artistic potential.

“As the first major Venetian view-painting to enter the museum’s collection it makes an inspirational addition to the Britain and Italy Gallery.”

Born in 1712, Francesco Guardi painted altar-pieces and devotional works, but is best known for his views of Venice.

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of the Arts Council England, said: “Many members of the public will now have the chance to view and interpret this important piece at the Ashmolean when its fate could very easily have meant that is was lost forever from history.”

The painting has also been acquired in lieu of £1.9m of inheritance tax with additional funds coming from the Art Fund and contributions in memory of Jo Wilson and from the Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust.