UK Export Ban on Rare Portrait

December 10 2021

Image of UK Export Ban on Rare Portrait

Picture: Trevanion Auctions

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The UK Government has placed a temporary export ban on a rare seventeenth century double portrait highlighted on this blog earlier in the summer. The painting, depicting two ladies with kabbalistic symbols glued to their faces, achieved £220,000 (hammer price) at auction over its top estimate of £4,000.

Cultural institutions are being asked whether they'd like to make a bid to keep it in the country.

According to committee members Pippa Shirley and Christopher Baker:

This anonymous painting is a great rarity in British art, as a mid-seventeenth-century work that depicts a black woman and a white woman with equal status. It is not a portrait of real people, as far as we know, but the inscription reveals that it is in fact a sternly moralising picture that condemns the use of cosmetics, and specifically elaborate beauty patches, which were in vogue at the time. 

Although not distinguished artistically, its imagery relates in fascinating ways to contemporary stereotypes of women, fashion, and, through the juxtaposition of the figures, race. The fact that it has only recently emerged, and only one other related painting is known so far, and that it could be used to explore important aspects of black culture in seventeenth-century Britain, makes it particularly important that it remains in this country so that its meaning can be widely studied and understood. 

Further research could reveal how the picture connects with contemporary print culture and texts, and the contexts and purposes for which it might have been created and displayed.

Interested parties have until 9th March 2022 to find £272,800 to save the work for the nation.

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