Bol export application withdrawn

April 13 2016

Image of Bol export application withdrawn

Picture: Arts Council

More bad news on the export licensing front: the buyer of a £5 million portrait by Ferdinand Bol (above) has withdrawn their application to export the painting following the expression of 'strong interest' from a UK institution to acquire the work. I do not know which institution tried to buy the picture, which used to hang at Castle Howard. The picture must now stay in the UK for ten years before a new application can be made.

The note of the hearing for the Bol portrait (held in December 2015) stated that the picture's owner:

understood the circumstances under which an export licence might be refused and that, if the decision on the licence was deferred, the owner would allow the portrait to be displayed for fundraising purposes.

In other words, this is another case where the owner of a painting has reneged on an undertaken accepted in good faith by the export licensing committee. Just to recap, under the UK's export licensing system, an owner can only apply for an export license if they agree in principle to allow any UK museum that wishes to try and 'save' the painting to raise a matching price. If the owner doesn't agree to this, no licence is granted. If they renege, as has happened here, no new licence can be applied for for ten years. 

So in one sense the system has worked, in that an important painting is going to stay in the country. However, the owner's actions point to a growing trend among export applicants to abuse the UK's scrupulously fair system. Regular readers will know that while I have argued strongly that the UK system does not need radical change, as demanded by the director of the art fund Stephan Deuchar, we do need to stop abuses like this taking place. It seems to be fair game now for owners to say 'yes I will accept a matching offer', but actually they're just saying that to get the application under way, and hoping that no museum shows any interest in the work. My suggestion has been to increase the 'pentalty' period for which a painting must stay in the UK if an application is withdrawn under such circumstances, from 10 years to, say, 15 years - or perhaps longer.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.