After writing about the controversy surrounding the Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus I happened upon the Arts Council of England’s website. What all of the British newspapers didn’t say was that this isn’t the first time that the transfer of a work of art was held up by the government.
According to their website, “certain cultural objects more than 50 years of age and valued above specified financial thresholds will require an additional license for export out of the United Kingdom whether on a permanent or temporary basis.”
Along with Manet’s painting, the Council’s December 2011 meeting also discussed the painting La Surprise by Jean-Antoine Watteau, the painting A View of the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon by Francesco Guardi, a North Italian Empire Athénienne (washstand) by Luigi Mandredini, a pair of Italian console tables and the sculpture The Crouching Venus by John Nost the Elder.
The representatives on the Watteau painting (shown at the left), participated in a hearing back in May. The work had an insurance value of £20 million. On the other hand, the Committee valuated the painting at £17.5 million. The initial export license was deferred for three months and the painting would be made available at the lower price to anyone willing to keep it within the UK. The deferral period would be further extended by nine months if the Committee received notification of a “serious intention to raise funds with a view of making an offer to purchase the painting.” However, the second deferral would be decreased to six months if the applicant/owner agreed to allow the painting to be exhibited for fundraising purposes. No one came forward with a “serious intention to raise funds” so an export license was issued after the initial deferral period.
The Guardi painting export application included a hammer price at auction of £26,697,250. This painting, like Watteau’s, met the second Waverly criterion (outstanding aesthetic importance) and the third Waverly criterion as the work was considered of “outstanding significance for the study of the development of Guardi, Venetian view painting and the study of Grand Tour patronage and taste. (The work was believed to have been commissioned by Chaloner Arcedeckne of Suffolk during a visit to Venice in 1768.) The initial hearing was held in September. The export license was deferred for three months at the price garnered at auction. No word on whether or not anyone has expressed a serious intention on raising funds for this work.
While none of the works discussed during the December meeting appear to have been sold to a museum or institution, most of the works discussed in November of 2010 were subsequently sold through this process. I’m not sure if the dates would indicate the committee only meets once a year or that those were the only case hearings that were posted on the website.
I find this entire concept intriguing. The idea that the government, on behalf of the British people, is essentially calling first dibs on the ability to purchase art objects if they are at risk of leaving the country still confounds me. Again, I have mixed feelings on the private ownership of irreplaceable works of art but I also don’t believe museums and the government should just be able to confiscate items. Granted this policy doesn’t provide for confiscation, it certainly makes the sale or loan of art more difficult and gives the museums more than a little unfair advantage over foreign buyers.
I can’t imagine purchasing a £26,697,250 painting at auction only to be told wait…you can’t have it…yet…we have to see if someone from England wants it for that price first. And we’re going to give them 2-3 months to indicate a “serious intention to raise funds” and will give them even more time if they can prove their seriousness. And, if someone happens to match that auction price, particularly a museum or other institution, you lose the painting to them.
What say you? Think this is a good idea? Or do you think it is somehow draconian and unfair to the owners or someone who purchases the work at auction?
Filed under: The Famous Artists