We reported on 11 March that one of the most iconic Picasso ‘Blue Period’ paintings which has been in Britain for over 85 years is about to vanish from the UK forever. ‘Child with a Dove’ was painted in 1901 when Picasso was a struggling 19 year old artist, living in Paris. It first arrived in the UK in 1924, when it was acquired by Mrs RA Workman, who sold it to the art collector Samuel Courtauld in 1928. He later bequeathed it to Lady Aberconway in 1947. Legend has it ,that when it was purchased by Samuel Courtauld, he regarded it so highly, it was hung in his bedroom.
We can now confirm that the painting is set to be exported to Qatar after attempts to buy it back from a private collector failed. Child With A Dove was sold last year at Christie’s for a reported £50m but the government placed an export bar on the work in the hope a British buyer could be found. The ban expired in December, with no institution able to raise the funds.
Lord Inglewood, chairman of the Arts Council-managed Reviewing Committee, called the loss “a great shame”. He said: “Child With A Dove is an iconic Picasso painting, and has a long history in British collections. It is one of Picasso’s key early works, and marks a transitional moment in his career, the move into his much celebrated Blue Period. “It is a great shame that institutions could not raise the funds necessary to keep this beautiful piece of art in this country. But this is exactly why export bars are so very important in protecting the nation’s cultural heritage.” Lord Inglewood added: “In the case of the Picasso, clearly money was the problem, and while steps are being taken to increase philanthropy in the country, this suggests they may not be enough.”
The French newspaper Le Figaro said, Child With A Dove had been bought by a collector in Qatar. The Arab state is a serious player in the art world and is already rumoured to have paid £162m for Cezanne’s The Card Players and £47m for Rothko’s White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose). Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the Fine Art Fund, told the Independent: “Qatar is one of the top three buyers in the world at the moment, and they have huge resources. “Qatar has made a huge commitment to making itself the hub of the art market in the Middle East. They are building incredible museums and an incredible art collection.”
The export of ‘Child With A Dove’ will take place despite the advise of Arts Council England, who stated in a report that Pablo Picasso was underrepresented in British museum collections. It is also thought that The National Gallery’s successful £50m bid to save Titian’s Diana and Callisto from the Duke of Sutherland collection, took precedence over the Blue period masterpiece.
The sale of this important painting raises many questions about the politics of priorities in this country. It also should promote discussion about the involvement of the major auction houses in brokering a fire sale of our heritage works of art. An export licence should never be granted for this particular Picasso, which will be sorely missed by generations to come.