The Government has temporarily blocked two rare George Stubbs paintings from leaving the country, although £5.5m needs to be raised by August to keep them in the UK permanently.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey has put a temporary export bar on The Kongouro from New Holland (The Kangaroo) and Portrait of a Large Dog (The Dingo), which were first exhibited in 1773 at the Royal Academy.
The works were the first to introduce animals from the Australasian New World to the British public in the 18th century.
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest recommended the export decision be deferred, saying their departure “would be a misfortune”. The bar expires on 5 August, but may be extended by a further three months.
Lord Inglewood, chairman of the committee, said: “It would be a terrible shame if the UK were to lose these extraordinary paintings to an overseas buyer.”
Stubbs was known for his paintings of horses and dogs. These two were among the few he was unable to paint from life. He worked of verbal accounts and for the kangaroo, used sketches and by inflating the preserved skin.
They are believed to have been commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks after his part in Captain James Cook’s first voyage of discovery to the Pacific.
The committee added the paintings “were of outstanding significance for the study of 18th century exploration of Australia and the public dissemination of knowledge during the Enlightenment”.