Hope for at-risk Poussin?

May 30 2014

Image of Hope for at-risk Poussin?

Picture: DCMS

The above Poussin, sold to an overseas buyer by the Duke of Bedford for £14m, has entered its second period of deferral under the UK's system for exporting works of art. This means that someone, almost certainly a museum, is making a serious bid to buy it. If it is a museum, then it's interesting that no public campaign is being launched, at least not yet. The export rules allow for a private buyer to match the price, as long as they agree to show it publicly for at least part of the year, for ten years. 

Update - a reader writes:

A note of caution regarding the fate of Poussin’s The Infant Moses trampling upon Pharaoh’s Crown. The lack of public campaign to save the painting (despite its undoubted quality and exceptional provenance) as compared to the highly effective appeal run by the Art Fund and The Fitzwilliam Museum for the same artist’s Extreme Unction 18 months ago suggests all does not bode well despite the painting’s continued deferral from export.  

Indeed, 2013/14 is turning out to be an annus horribilis for at risk paintings. Of the eleven paintings export stopped so far only the van Dyck self portrait has been secured for the nation. One other case remains outstanding (a Lusieri watercolour) but nine important paintings have gone abroad. The most recent loss is Le Brun’s Portrait of Everhard Jabach and his family which the Art Tribune describes as ‘exceptional for its quality’ and notes ‘the National Gallery in London…should have done everything in its power to keep it in England where it resided since the 18th century.’ Unfortunately, the National Gallery (or indeed other galleries across the UK) did not appear to share this view.

The Jabach was certainly a fine picture, but I'm not sure I agree with this gloomy prognosis. As I mentioned frequently some years ago now, we find ourselves at a time when many historic collections are selling up, given the seemingly contradictory situation where we've had both a global recession and a massive rise in the value of the best Old Master paintings. And considering that, it seems to me that in fact the system for making sure the very best, nationally and historically significant paintings (we can never hope to keep everything) remain in this country is working well, especially now that the Heritage Lottery Fund is involved. As I have also mentioned before, I think those involved deserve our congratulations. 

Meanwhile, another reader has this intriguing selection:

Her Majesty The Queen once commented in an interview regarding art that The Royal Collection was lacking a Poisson painting and appeared genuinely disturbed by the fact.  This one would be an excellent addition to Her collection.

Update II - however, a reader adds re the above:

It wasn’t the Queen as such, rather Prunella Scales as HM – I remember the comment from Alan Bennett’s Question of Attribution.

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