The Sunday Telegraph
‘Loophole’ lets foreign buyers take British art
BRITAIN risks losing its most treasured works of art to foreign millionaires who exploit loopholes in the export licensing system, one of the country’s most distinguished art commentators has said.
Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund – set up 110 years ago to help buy and display great works of art – said the export licence system is run like a “gentleman’s agreement”, leaving it open to exploitation and abuse. He has now called for a change in the law to make it more difficult for important works of art to be sold to foreign buyers.
Mr Deuchar said the recent sale of Rembrandt’s
1657 masterpiece, Portrait of
Catrina Hooghsaet, to a private buyer overseas, highlighted flaws in the system.
It follows the 2010 sale of Turner’s Detail of Modern
Rome to the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, for £29.7 million.
A ring which belonged to Jane Austen only remained in Britain after a public campaign was launched to stop the US singer Kelly Clarkson taking it out of the country, after she bought it for more than £152,000. Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, imposed an export bar on it and the campaign resulted in the ring being bought for the Jane Austen House Museum, Hampshire.
The Rembrandt – which was bought in 1860 for Penrhyn Castle, north Wales, by Edward Gordon Douglas-Pennant, 1st Baron Penrhyn – had been offered at private sale several times at prices beyond the means of public buyers. So when the Secretary of State for Culture announced that an export licence for the Rembrandt would be temporarily withheld, the Art Fund aimed to raise funds to buy it for the nation. But shortly before the public appeal for £22.5million to buy the Rembrandt was launched, the painting’s owners, the trustees of Penrhyn Castle, pulled out of the Export Review process. According to Mr Deuchar they proceeded “regardless with their private sale overseas”.
The conditions of the sale are that the painting remains in the UK, but Mr Deuchar says any new export applica- tion by the owners would “almost invariably succeed”.
By then the Rembrandt is likely to be worth more than £35million, putting it beyond the Art Fund’s reach.
“Much is made… of the ‘gentlemanly’ procedures and etiquette that determine how business is conducted,” wrote Mr Deuchar in the latest edition of Art Quarterly. “With £35million at stake, gentlemanly conduct will forever be in short supply.”
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said the system is “designed to strike a balance between the public interest and the rights of individuals to enjoy their property”.