The painting of Omai by the iconic English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds will remain in the UK, following Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s refusal to grant a temporary export licence. The painting has been on display at the National Gallery of Ireland for more than five years and has only just returned to the UK.
The Tate has expressed a serious intention to acquire the painting at the end of the first deferral period and deferral was then extended to September 2003. The Tate secured funding from an anonymous private donor and made an offer to purchase the painting at the fair matching price of £12.5 million as determined by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the Committee. The owner did not accept this offer, and, in accordance with normal policy, a permanent export licence was refused.
Mr Vaizey is acting on the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA), who recommended that permission be refused as the artwork has been identified as a national treasure and has already been out of the country on a temporary licence for a long period of time. Subsequently, the owner made an application for a temporary export licence to export the painting to Ireland to display at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI). This application requested that the licence should be for six and a half years. The licence was granted and, following a short extension of four months, the painting has now been returned to the UK at the end of the agreed period.
Mr Vaizey said: “The temporary export licence system is an excellent way to allow works of significant national importance to travel overseas where they may be enjoyed by audiences around the world before returning to the UK.“Joshua Reynolds’ Omai is an outstanding work of art which has already spent more than five years overseas and I do not want to see the regime being undermined by repeated use of temporary licences, so I have refused to grant a second licence on this occasion.”
The Government has been concerned for some time about the potential for the long-term use of temporary licences to undermine the export control system. DCMS is currently consulting on proposed changes to the scheme which would see temporary export licences for national treasures only being granted for a maximum of three years, with no extension. The consultation runs until 1 August, 2012.
DCMS is particularly seeking views from exporters of cultural objects, expert advisers who scrutinise objects of cultural interest on their national importance and others involved in the export licensing regime for cultural objects.