'Three Graces' decision delayed

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The Independent Online
WORKS OF ART considered 'exceptionally important' to the nation and faced with being sold to an overseas buyer, will from July be capable of receiving a 12-month 'breathing space'.

The announcement yesterday by Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, coincided with his department's decision to grant yet another stay of execution in the long-running saga over the neo-classical sculpture, The Three Graces.

Although the decision over an export licence for the 19th-century Antonio Canova masterpiece has been delayed until 5 August, the move is nevertheless certain to mean that the work will be acquired by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which has been after the Canova for five years. Its current on-the-table offer of pounds 7.6m is unlikely to be challenged between now and August.

Mr Brooke said he 'fully appreciated' the strength of feeling for the retention of The Three Graces. He had considered very carefully the expressed opinion that the sculpture should be returned to a restored sculpture gallery in Woburn, Bedfordshire. In 1814, the 6th Duke of Bedford commissioned the Italian sculptor, and converted a conservatory at Woburn to house the work.

Mr Brooke decided against a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee that he should delay the export decision for a further 18 months. This would have allowed the National Heritage Memorial Fund to intervene using the substantial cash it will receive when the National Lottery comes on stream. Early estimates suggest the fund should receive an annual pounds 75m from the pounds 1.5bn the lottery is expected to take.

Asked if in August he would consider using the new 12-month deferral system, the minister said there would be 'no further extension beyond August'.

The sculpture is owned by a company registered in the Cayman Islands. The Duke of Bedford's eldest son, the Marquess of Tavistock, supposedly sold the sculpture in 1985. In 1989, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London raised just pounds 330,000 in a public appeal to keep the Canova in Britain.