Not 'saved for the nation': Britain selling more art than ever before

Budget cuts and a lack of philanthropy are damaging system tasked with protecting UK’s cultural heritage, says arts expert

It has been described as Britain’s “cultural safety net” – a means to save some of the country’s most precious works of art from being sold abroad and disappearing from public view.

But now a former minister is warning that the 60-year-old system for protecting the UK’s cultural heritage is beginning to fail because of a lack of government and philanthropic support.

In the last two years, less than a third of the antiques, paintings and manuscripts that the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest recommended should be “saved for the nation” actually remained in Britain.

Instead works, including Picasso’s Child with a Dove, which had been on display at the National Gallery since 1974, have been lost to collectors abroad because the funds could not be found to keep them in the country.

Under the current system, the committee can ask ministers to delay export licences to allow British museums and collections time to raise the funds to buy the works.

But despite issuing 20 export delay orders since 2012, the money has only been raised to allow six pieces to remain in the country.

Nine of the works have already left Britain after export licence delays were lifted while six are still waiting to see if funds can be found to buy them. These include a Rembrandt. 

George Stubbs's Kangaroo is staying in Britain following a national fundraising campaign to stop it being sold to an Australian gallery George Stubbs's Kangaroo is staying in Britain following a national fundraising campaign to stop it being sold to an Australian gallery Lord Inglewood, chairman of the committee and a former Conservative arts minister, said part of the problem had been public expenditure constraints combined with general economic conditions.

He warned that, as a result, pieces of “outstanding significance” were leaving the country and that “posterity would come to regret” not doing more to save them.

“The committee was set up give the country a ‘second chance’ to buy things which are of great significance to the country and are about to be exported,” he said.

“If 50 per cent of those items that we find meet the criteria (leave Britain) then that is a misfortune.

“You can argue that these things don’t matter. But in terms of overall public expenditure we are not talking about big sums of money. If you look at what we overspend on aircraft carriers this sort of stuff is irrelevant.”

He added that the system – by which British buyers must pay the market value of the piece to prevent it being exported – was good for  all parties.

“The system is good and is accepted by the museum world, the academic world and the art trade as being a fair compromise and a good way of dealing with these issues,” he said.

“The problem is the availability of resources to actually buy the items that we identify to be national treasures. I would like the Government to have the confidence to say ‘these things do matter’.

“Take Qatar or Dubai. They are creating museums with equivalent things that we are allowing out of the country – because they think in the long run they will underpin the economies of their countries.

A painting of a dingo by British animal painter George Stubbs; like the kangaroo, the painting will stay in Britain after escaping being sold to an Australian gallery A painting of a dingo by British animal painter George Stubbs; like the kangaroo, the painting will stay in Britain after escaping being sold to an Australian gallery “We have an extraordinary storehouse of valuable cultural and historical artefacts which in the current world – where it is so important – will be a valuable foundation for future prosperity in Britain.

“But we are allowing it to dribble away through our fingers for sums of money which, in the overall scheme of things, is very small.”

A spokeswoman for the National Gallery said they would never comment on which works of arts it was or was not trying to purchase, but added that the scheme had been used to allow it time to buy pieces for display in the past.  

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said: “The export deferral system exists to help protect the UK’s cultural heritage.

“Whilst it is not always possible to save every item there have been huge successes most recently with Jane Austen’s ring and the National Maritime Museum’s campaign to save George Stubbs’s paintings.”

Lost masterpieces: Art that left Britain

Pablo Picasso, ‘Child with a Dove’ (£50,000,000)

One of the earliest and most important works by Picasso to enter a British collection, Child with a Dove left the country earlier this year after the funds could not be found to keep it. The work marked a transition into Picasso’s celebrated Blue Period, when he moved away from an impressionistic style to a more sparing aesthetic. The painting had been consistently one of the 10 top-selling postcards in the National Gallery.

Raphael, ‘Head of a Young Apostle’ (£29,721,250)

The work dates from around 1519 and was done as a study for the head of one of the figures in Raphael’s painting Transfiguration, which hangs in the Vatican Museum. The drawing is believed to have belonged to Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in the 17th century and was acquired by William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, 300 years ago. The current Duke sold it to “benefit the long-term future” of Chatsworth estate.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ (£3,800,000)

The work dates from around 1603 and, although unsigned, is believed to be the work of Rubens based on the style – particularly the virtuoso dragging of the paint to create the ruffles. The painting had two red wax seals on the back, one proving it was in Venice in the early 19th century, a time of political turmoil, and the other showing it was in a British collection by the 1840s, among the paintings of Sir John Hanmer.

‘Four Scenes from the Passion of Christ’ by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini (£1,105,250)

The committee was told that the scenes were the only known surviving example of 14th-century Italian pictorial narrative cycle painted on a linen fabric support. As such, they were of outstanding significance for the study of the techniques. They are also of interest to historians of 19th-century Anglicanism, as they were among the first “Primitive” paintings to be reused for devotional purposes.

Amber games board, attributed to Georg Schreiber (£821,500)

The games board was believed to have been owned by King Charles I and was given, just before his execution, to his confidant, the Rt Rev William Juxon, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. As amber was such a cherished and costly material, such pieces were normally only owned by royalty or the aristocracy.

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Stinson Hunter and his associates Stubbs and Grime in Channel 4 documentary The Paedophile Hunter

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
This Banksy mural in Clacton has been removed by the council
art
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?