Acquisition of minor works banned for export from the United Kingdom

1. Domenico Guidi (1628-1701)
Virgin of Annunciation
Marble - H. 89 cm
Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum
Photo : All rights reserved

17/12/08 — Acquisitions and export bans — English museums — Governments are the same everywhere. No matter how bad the result, they always find a pretext to praise the excellence of their policies. The United Kingdom is no exception. A report has just been published on the results of the export bans on art works in 2007-2008. In it the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports, Andy Burnham congratulates himself on his admirable record : out of fifteen objects considered to be national treasures, seven were finally acquired by British museums. Unfortunately, among the eight which were eventually exported one finds the most important pieces, as we had pointed out in a previous news item (22/10/08) : Rubens, Pompeo Batoni, Domenico Guidi (ill. 1), Turner, Domenichino (see news item of 24/6/08).

2. John Thomas Seton (1628-1701)
Portrait of Alexander Dalrymple
Oil on canvas - 91.4 x 71.1 cm
Edinburg, National Museums Scotland
Photo : All rights reserved

3. J S C Schaak (Know between1760 and 1770)
Portrait of General Wolfe, 1760
Oil on canvas - 35 x 30 cm
London, National Army Museum
Photo : All rights reserved

On the other hand, English museums were able to acquire : a Portrait of Alexander Dalrymple by John Thomas Seton (ill. 2) which is now part of the collection at the National Museums of Scotland and a Portrait of General Wolfe by J. S. C. Schaak (ill. 3) today owned by the National Army Museum. It is hard to believe that these two works could be really considered national treasures. (J.S.C. Schaak is so unfamiliar that no one seems to know what the initials stand for…). The rest is made up of objects or archives which would seem totally minor compared to the works which were exported (a copy of the order to execute Mary Stuart, an account book for a copper merchant from the 17th century…).

4. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
View of Alexandre Pope’s Villa in Twickenham
Oil on canvas - 91.5 x 120.5 cm
Export bans from United Kingdom
Photo : All rights reserved

Despite these disappointing results, export bans continue to be issued regularly. Another painting by Turner has also undergone the same fate recently. This is a View of Alexander Pope’s Villa in Twickenham (ill. 4), painted in 1808, proof of both his admiration for the poet and his anger at the villa’s destruction at the hands of its owner at the time, Lady Howe, who was denounced for this act of vandalism by receiving the name of “Queen of the Goths”. The work can be detained until 9 February 2009, with the possibility of extending the deadline to 9 June 2009. The amount has been established at 5,417,250£, which was its auction price on 9 July 2008 at Sotheby’s London. Nevertheless, let us point out once again that the real problem facing British museums is that of collecting the 50 million pounds which the Duke of Sutherland is asking for in exchange for the purchase of Diana and Actaeon by Titian, before the end of December.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mercredi 17 décembre 2008

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