Omai Acquisition of the Year

November 24 2023

Image of Omai Acquisition of the Year

Picture: Apollo

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

It is perhaps little surprise that the Apollo Magazine's annual Acquisition of the Year has been awarded to the NPG and Getty's joint purchase of Sir Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Omai. This painting, which had sold for £10.3 (including fees) at Sotheby's in 2001, was acquired jointly by the museums for a staggering £50m.

According to the article linked above:

As the original press release accompanying the export stop in March 2022 made clear, ‘This magnificent British portrait has a global resonance.’ There is no reason why visitors to the Getty at the time of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 should not be at least as interested in seeing a great painting of a Polynesian as visitors to the top floor of the newly redisplayed NPG in London. So, it feels appropriate that the joint purchase of Mai by the NPG and the Getty should mark a new era of international museum collaboration in acquisitions.


I've stood in front of the painting a few times in the past few weeks, and what an impressive picture it is within the NPG's new displays. One small point that has always fascinated me is the claim (according to signage and the NPG website) that 'it was the first British portrait to represent a person of colour with grandeur, dignity and authority.' Doesn't Sir Godfrey Kneller's portrait of Michael Alphonsus Shen Fu-Tsung, signed and dated 1687 in the Royal Collection, have a better claim to this, perhaps?

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