UK export laws - "no substantive change"

March 18 2016

Image of UK export laws - "no substantive change"

Picture: Sotheby's

Earlier this year Stephan Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund, said he would support no more campaigns to 'save' artworks at risk of export until changes were made to the export system. He called for 'radical' changes. A reader has, however, drawn my attention to an unreported parliamentary question in the House of Lords (in February) from Lord Smith of Finsbury, who is chairman of the Art Fund:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving, and on what timescale, to the drawing up of proposals for substantial change to the current arrangements for export licensing for nationally important works of art.

And here was the answer from DCMS minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe:

The Government is open to considering practicable improvements to the export licensing system for cultural goods, but has no immediate plans to make any substantive change to the current arrangements.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has written to the noble Lord in relation to his recently proposed changes to the system and is grateful for his correspondence on this matter.

So that would appear to be that. There are a few minor changes that can be made which will help the Art Fund's particular grievance (or at least one of them). I've got a longer piece on the whole question in the latest issue of Apollo Magazine (print edition).

Quite where this leaves the Art Fund's widely discussed threat I'm not sure. Without substantive changes, will the Art Fund now quietly go back to helping save important works, which it does so well? I do hope so. The whole business is, though, a reminder of one of the cardinal rules of politics and diplomacy; don't make threats you're not prepared to carry out. 

By the way, a reader alerts me to the fact that a £5m portrait by Ferdinand Bol (above), which was subject to a temporary export bar in January this year, is no longer on the Arts Counci's list of pictures threatened with export. Has a museum stepped into buy the picture? Or has the export licence been withdrawn? Or possibly a combination of the two?

Update - a reader writes:

I had also notice the missing Bol on the Export Committee’s website although it is worth bearing in mind that the website is almost always out of date.  For example, the website has still not updated the entry for the Niagara Falls watercolour by Davies where the deadline for offers expired in February.  Three weeks on and we have no idea whether the painting has been bought by a museum or has gone abroad.  One would ordinarily consult the Art Fund website to see if they have supported a grant but in recent months this website has become next to useless for those members interested in where their money is spent.  The vast majority of the news items advertise exhibitions and successful acquisitions are now relegated to a few pages at the back of the quarterly magazine. The Art Fund's searchable art database on its database is also woeful; it is now not possible to search by year of acquisition for example. 

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