Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait? (ctd.)

September 6 2016

Image of Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait? (ctd.)

Picture: DCMS

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the National Gallery is currelntly trying to buy the £30m export-stopped Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap by Pontormo. The painting was subject to an export bar earlier this year after it was suddenly sold to an overseas buyer - despite being on the walls of the National Gallery, where it was on loan. Such goings on are rightly frowned upon.

Making matters more complicated in this instance, and also more frown-able, is the fact that the owners of the painting paid the inheritance tax that was due on the picture at the point of the sale. Under the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme, inheritance tax can be foregone if a museum decides to intercept an exported painting and attempt to buy it. So in the case of the Pontormo, the price to a UK museum would have been substantially less (one imagines 40% less) than the full £30m sale price. It was suspected that the owner's decision to pay the tax was done deliberately, to make life more difficult for any UK museum wanting to 'save' the picture, and thus to help expedite the sale to the overseas buyer by making it more likely that the painting would not be export-barred.

Therefore, the National Gallery is in discussions with the government about rescinding the inheritance tax already paid - so that the Gallery can still buy the painting at the discounted price. Obviously, it would be good in this case if a deal can be reached. And it would set a useful precedent for the future.

The painting was only re-discovered in 2008, by the great art sleuth and Renaissance scholar Francis Russell of Christie's. Bailey reports that it belongs to the Earls of Caledon.

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