Art lovers are being asked help raise £12.5 million to keep the last self-portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, described as “the world’s most expensive selfie”, in Britain.
Painted by the Flemish artist shortly before he died, possibly of plague, in 1641, it has been described as “one of the finest and most important self-portraits” in British art.
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has just three months to raise the funds to buy the painting, which has been sold to a collector who wishes to take it abroad.
Ed Vaizey, arts minister, slapped a temporary export ban on the painting, which dates back to 1640 and has been held in a private collection for almost 400 years.
The painting had been in the Earl of Jersey's family collection for more than 300 years. In 2009, it was sold for £8.3m at auction - nearly three times the estimate - breaking the previous auction record for a Van Dyck.
One of three self-portraits the artist produced after he was appointed court painter to King Charles I, it has now been bought by a private individual in the US, unless a nationwide appeal can match the latest rising valuation.
The largest campaign in the NPG’s history, £1.2m has already been raised including a grant of £500,000 towards the acquisition and £700,000 from the Gallery’s Portrait Fund and acquisition budget.
The painting was given a rare public viewing at a Tate Britain Van Dyck exhibition in 2009. However the Art Fund has also committed £150,000 towards a three-year nationwide tour for the painting, ensuring that the art lovers across Britain will have an opportunity to view the work, if it is saved.
Public appeals have previously helped save Titian’s Diana and Actaeon (£50m) and Raphael’s, Madonna of the Pinks (£22m) for the nation.
Campaigners accept that saving the Van Dyck, now on view at the NPG, would be a major achievement, with many other calls on the public’s generosity and Christmas approaching. A Twitter hashtag has been created - #savevandyck - and £5 donations are being accepted by text.
If the campaign can make serious headway towards the £12.5m target by February, and demonstrate that it has public backing, the Government may grant a further five months for fund-raising.
Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund said: “It’s the only £12 million selfie in existence. If we can save this work then others may follow in the future. We’re bringing all the latest technology to bear on the campaign.”
Born in Antwerp in 1599, Van Dyck, a prodigy of Rubens, came to Britain in 1632 at the invitation of Charles I, who rewarded him with a knighthood and the title of Principal Painter. In return, the painter delivered portraits which made the frail King appear imposing and powerful.
Sandy Nairne, the NPG director, described the self-portrait as a “revolutionary” work, which marked a sea-change in portraiture style. “No other artist has had such a dramatic impact on British portraiture as Van Dyck,” Mr Nairne said.
“He decisively turned it away from the stiff, formal approach of Tudor and Jacobean painting, developing a distinctive fluid, painterly style that was to dominate portraiture well into the 20th century.
“It is very rare to have the opportunity to make a painting as important as Van Dyck's last self-portrait available to everyone in Britain.”
Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate and a member of the Arts Council’s national council, said: “This is a self-portrait everybody can enjoy. There is a paradox at the centre of the painting. The quality of expression appears to say ‘How dare you come into my studio and interrupt my work?’ That is combined with a mature and melancholy self-awareness. Perhaps the artists knew he would die in a short period of time?”
Sir Andrew added: “If we lose this painting it will disappear into private hands and eyes and it will be lost to the world. But this is a painting about living in the world and the world is where it deserves to be.”
Artist Julian Opie, whose portraits of Blur hang in the National Portrait Gallery, said: “You see Van Dyck as the artist, utterly confident and masterful with whipping brushstrokes of glistening paint. He is also the subject, witty, lively, a little cocky and very present. This is such a focused painting powerfully evoking a turbulent era. Nearly 400 years on and it sparkles with life and light.”
The NPG is seeking to save Van Dyck’s final self-portrait. Of the other two, one is in the hands of a private collector and the other is held by the Prado museum in Madrid.
Donations to the National Portrait Gallery’s Van Dyck Self-Portrait Appeal can be made online at www.savevandyck.org. Donate by text: Text VanDyck to 70800 to give £5