Temporary Export Bar on £11m Bellotto

April 5 2022

Image of Temporary Export Bar on £11m Bellotto

Picture: Christie's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The UK Government has placed a temporary export bar on Bernado Bellotto's View of Verona with the Ponte delle Navi. The picture was sold at Christie's last year, and any interested institution will have to find £11m to keep the work in the country.

According to Committee Member Christopher Baker: 

Bernardo Bellotto was one of the greatest vedute (view) painters of the eighteenth century and this ambitious work is among the towering achievements of his early career. 

A native of Venice and nephew of Canaletto, Bellotto sought novel subjects beyond his home and here created, when in his early twenties, a remarkably mature study of the heart of Verona, notable for its bold composition, unifying silvery light and architectural interest, as well as its lively anecdotal details. Painted for an as yet unidentified British patron, View of Verona with the Ponte delle Navi’ is first recorded in London in 1771 when it was consigned to auction. 

It was conceived as one of a pair of pictures (pendants); its companion explores a complementary view of the river Adige, looking in the opposite direction, and hangs in the collection of Powis Castle (National Trust). Because of the aesthetic pre-eminence of Bellotto’s work and its fascination in terms of future research around such paintings and their patronage, it would be highly desirable if this wonderful picture could find a permanent home in a British public collection.


Regular readers will know that there are quite a few pictures with temporary export bars on them at the moment. There is a £50m Reynolds, a £10m Cezanne, a £6m De Heem, a £1.5m pair of Kauffmans, all waiting for interested institutions to raise the money to keep them in the country.

I'm yet to hear if any institution stepped in to save this most interesting seventeenth century double portrait, whose export ban expired in March 2022. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the aforementioned £7.5m Sargent too has slipped through the net too.

Quite a few of you often get in touch after I post such stories, pointing out how few of these paintings are eventually saved. As I posted last year, it seems that the UK export scheme is not particularly efficient in actually saving high value paintings.

One reader has recently contributed his own personal view:

Nothing about this scheme works. It may once have been to protect the nation's heritage, but its only purpose today is to allow the government to pretend it cares about the Nation's heritage - it would be better simply to abolish it. 

The US has generous tax incentives that result in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art being donated annually and museums with billions in endowments. France and Holland fund their museums to but great artworks (150 million Euros for a Rembrandt this year - 180 million Euros between them for two others a few years ago). Most other countries - including Italy, Greece and Spain simply ban the export of important heritage items so that they remain in those countries even if they can't be purchased for public collections. 

If our Country has become so impoverished that adding anything approaching great art to our national collections is simply beyond our means, would it not be better just to do away with our wholly discredited heritage export scheme, and just ban the export of important items as many other countries do?

I suppose we might need to wait and see what happens with the current list of artworks at risk. If all are lost, then it might be a good time for the scheme to be reformed in some way (as has been suggested many times before).

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