The Big Question: Should Turner's 'Blue Rigi' and other masterpieces be saved for Britain?


Why are we asking this question now?

Tate galleries have launched a campaign to buy The Blue Rigi, a late-period watercolour by the great British artist JMW Turner. The work was sold at auction in June to an anonymous bidder who paid £5.8m - three times the expected price. The new owner was required under British laws to apply for an export licence to remove the work from UK.

The body responsible for considering the application, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, awarded the painting a starred rating - the highest level of protection - and recommended the export be deferred.

The Culture Minister, David Lammy, responded by imposing a temporary export ban on the painting, giving organisations until March 2007 to match the price paid at auction in the summer to keep it in the UK. Unfortunately, Tate has only £2m to put towards the purchase, and is looking to the publicly funded National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, an independent charity, to make up the difference.

Why does The Blue Rigi matter?

Turner's painting is one of three studies of the Swiss mountain at Lucerne examining the effects of light at different times of the day. All three - Red, Blue and Dark - will be brought together for an exhibition at Tate Britain in January. Supporters of the purchase say not only is the painting one of Turner's finest - and the most important watercolour to come on the market for 50 years - but it is world class.

Committee members considering its export declared it not just to be outstanding in terms of its technical accomplishments, but also to be of vital importance to the study of the artist. While the existence of preparatory sketches, part of Tate's vast Turner Bequest left for the nation by the painter, provided an "exciting context" for future scholarship. An export ban imposed on The Dark Rigi already saved the painting for the nation in the summer. The Red Rigi, however, is owned by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne Australia.

What is the law?

Ministers were empowered under the 1939 Export Control Act to intervene on behalf of the nation to prevent items of cultural, economic or technological value leaving the country. A committee run by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council was established in 1952 to advise the Government on decisions relating to the export of cultural objects. It may consider up to a dozen applications a month from buyers wishing to export items from the UK.

Made up of eight expert permanent members, the panel is responsible for all types of cultural treasures - from paintings to decorative arts, manuscripts and archaeology. The law was updated in 2002 after recommendations made in the Scott report in the wake of his arms-to-Iraq inquiry.

How do they decide what should be saved for the nation?

Decisions are based on the three so-called Waverley Criteria, a set of rules named after the 1st Viscount John Anderson, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Churchill's War Cabinet and who gave his name to the wartime shelters, not to mention the inventor of PAYE.

To satisfy the criteria and to qualify for an export bar, an object must be more than 50 years old and closely connected to British history and national life. It must be of "outstanding aesthetic importance" and contribute to the study of art, learning or history.

What happens next?

Unfortunately, the review process, widely regarded as robust and effective, is only half of the story. Once an item meets the Waverley criteria and the minister has acted, it is up to someone to come forward with the cash. Sometimes, when a serious British buyer is at hand, the deadline can be extended, but often it is not. In an art and antiquities market where prices are soaring and new records are being set at auction each month, Britain's relative ability to afford important pieces is declining rapidly. Cultural groups have watched in horror as treasures and masterpieces disappear into overseas collections, denuding the nation of its cultural heritage.

What has been saved and lost?

Concerns over disappearing treasures reached a head in 2002 when the Duke of Northumberland announced that he was to sell his Raphael Madonna of the Pinks, which hung in the National Gallery, to the J Paul Getty Museum in California. After a huge public row, and a temporary export ban, the work was saved at the cost of £22m after the intervention of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The following year an anonymous benefactor stepped in to save Sir Joshua Reynolds' £12.5m Portrait of Omai for Tate, after a campaign led by Sir David Attenborough, chair of the Art Fund's Centenary Committee.

But while the most famous items, which gain the most publicity are often saved, it is not always the case for lesser-known pieces, which can slip quietly away unnoticed. Of the 27 temporary export bans imposed in 2005-06, items ranging from historic Naval medals to a George II Gothic painted cabinet attributed to William Hallett to Naddo Ceccarelli's The Madonna and Child were lost.

What can be done to improve the system?

The Art Fund is asking the Treasury to introduce a new tax break that would give 40 per cent income tax relief for any individual donating a work of art or artefact to the nation. Yet this would still leave Britain lagging far behind the US, where 100 per cent tax relief is available, or France, where 90 per cent tax breaks are available. Some favour the establishment of a national fund. A lump sum of, say, £500m, invested at the end of the last recession, would have yielded sufficient returns to have seen off all the export crises of the past 10 years and allowed museums and galleries to build collections in new areas.

Should we worry about works of art going to collectors abroad?

Yes...

* Art is such a vital part of our national heritage and so central to our culture that the Government has an obligation to protect it

* British museums are being overwhelmed by US institutions with deep pockets, which increases the need to protect what we have

* World-class collections in British museums and galleries help boost tourism and make the UK an important academic centre

No...

* The art market is just like any other, and artworks should be traded freely and openly without the interference of governments

* Many of the finest pieces in British galleries and museums are by foreign artists and were themselves acquired overseas

* It is better for pieces to go on show to the public overseas than remain in private collections in Britain

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Life and Style
The spring/summer 2015 Louis Vuitton show for Paris Fashion Week
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

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
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
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