Ashmolean bids for Manet

February 27 2012

Image of Ashmolean bids for Manet

Picture: Daily Mail

The Ashmolean museum has until August to raise £7.83m to acquire the above portrait by Manet. From The Guardian:

The unfinished 1868 painting depicts a young violinist, Fanny Claus, the close friend of Manet's wife Suzanne Leenhoff, sitting pensively on a balcony. It was a preparatory study for the Le Balcon (1868–9), one of the major works of the impressionist movement, which hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. "I find it difficult to over-emphasise the importance of this picture," said Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean [above]. "Manet is a profoundly radical artist and this is a key picture – in some ways it's more radical and more appealing than Le Balcon."

The picture is subject to an export bar after it was sold recently to an overseas buyer for £28.35m. When the picture was first stopped for export, I wrote that the hefty price meant there was no chance of a UK museum stepping into acquire it. Indeed, the National Gallery had the chance to buy the picture at a much reduced price, but declined, largely on account of the outstanding £50m they are still raising for the Duke of Sutherland's second Titian.

But what I didn't know is that the picture is subject to an unusually heavy tax liability. I presume this is because of a series of deferred death taxes. Under Treasury rules, a public museum can buy such pictures at a discounted rate, with the government effectively foregoing the balance in tax due. In this case, the Ashmolean will buy if it can raise just 25% of the total. For this sensible arrangement we have to thank Schedule 3 of the 1984 Inheritance Tax Act. So well done to the Ashmolean for stepping in, and taking up the challenge.

If you'd like to support the Ashmolean's campaign, you can do so here.

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