The Monarch of the Glen, the iconic Landseer painting which is to be sold by owners Diageo at auction next month, should remain in the public eye, the Scottish Government has said.

Although not committing to a publicly-backed bid for the famous picture of a stag, a spokesman for the Scottish Government, which would have to spend or gather around £10m to buy the painting, said the painting has "inspired the branding of some of our most globally recognised food and drink produce."

The painting, which belongs to the drinks company but has hung for many years in the National Museum of Scotland, is to be sold at Christie's in December.

Before it is sold on December 8, it will tour the world, with Christie's exhibiting it at Christie’s New York and Hong Kong before being on view in London.

Sources at Diageo, a multinational alcoholic drinks business, say the company is at present committed to the auction sale, which could see the painting sold to a private collector and disappear from public view, but they are also open to communications from public bodies and would consider any "new development."

The National Museums of Scotland have said they will not be making a bid for the painting.

Sir John Leighton, the general director of the National Galleries of Scotland, would not commit to making a bid for the painting, saying it will "interesting to see what happens."

He did added that he would "be a shame" if such a "very well done" and popular part of Scottish painting, although an image loaded with many readings of its imagery was to disappear from public view.

The National Galleries of Scotland do not have the acquisition resources to make a bid for the piece, and any sizeable sum would have to come from private, philathropic, or government coffers.

One arts world insider said the timing of the sale - only a month hence - makes putting together a public bid extremely difficult, but saving the painting for the public is a "very compelling" idea.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Monarch of the Glen is iconic of its time and typifies the painting movement of the mid-1800s.

"The painting has strong associations with Scotland and has long attracted international visitors while on show at the National Museum of Scotland.

"As well as a long history of public interest, Monarch of the Glen has inspired the branding of some of our most globally recognised food and drink produce.

"The future of the painting will hopefully allow public access to continue.”

A National Museums Scotland spokeswoman said: "We were delighted to have The Monarch of the Glen on long-term loan from Diageo and to display it in our Scottish galleries at the National Museum of Scotland.

"Landseer’s superb vision of the nobility of the highland stag, and of the highlands as a wilderness, was a hugely powerful image, and one which still resonates in perceptions of Scotland today."

She added: "As a national museum, our collecting policy is firstly to acquire 3D material culture, and our collecting of fine art is exceptional and concerned with subject, closely aligned to interpretation of our existing history collections.

" An example is our collection of Scottish military paintings, to which The Thin Red Line [donated by Diageo] is such a tremendous addition.

"The Monarch of the Glen is not something we would aim to acquire since it is a major painting by a very significant artist and a very fine work of art in its own right."

A Diageo spokesman said: "Our ownership of the Monarch of the Glen is an historical legacy which has no direct link to our business or brands. We have made a major contribution by loaning the work for the past 17 years, but we believe the time is right for us to pass on the ownership of the painting.

“The priority for Diageo is to ensure all our assets are focused on growing our business and delivering value for our employees, shareholders and the communities where we operate."