Export of Manet portrait deferred - but for how long?

December 8 2011

Image of Export of Manet portrait deferred - but for how long?

Picture: DCMS

This unfinished Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus by Edouard Manet has been temporarily refused an export licence by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. It was bought after Manet's death by John Singer Sargent in 1884, and has been in the UK ever since. If you haven't seen it before that's because it has only been exhibited publicly once, and has now been sold privately to an overseas buyer.

So, will the picture be saved for the nation? Not on your nelly. The asking price is £28.3 million, so there is not a hope in hell of any UK museum coming forward with a matching offer to keep the picture in the UK.

Why? Because there is precious little money around for acquisitions. The Heritage Lottery Fund is awash with money to save items of national heritage, but for some bizarre reason it does not like to fund the acquisition of paintings. The only substantial pot of public money available for acquisitions is the National Heritage Memorial Fund, but this has had its budget reduced from £10m to £5m. The Heritage Lottery Fund, on other hand, has had its budget increased by £25m, and, get this, is run by the same body of trustees as the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It's all completely bonkers, don't you think?

The end result is that now, when the recession has put unprecedented pressure on UK collections to sell prime works of art, they are all being sold overseas. And, aside from futile attempts to defer export licences for 6 months, nobody's doing anything about it.

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