Letter: Needless indecision over 'The Three Graces'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: The fate of Antonio Canova's The Three Graces once again hangs in the balance this week. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (understandably frustrated by lack of government funds to support its recommendations to stop specific works of art from leaving the country) has proposed to Peter Brooke, the National Heritage Secretary, that an export licence application by the Getty Museum in California for the Canova should, for the second time, be deferred. On this occasion, an extended period of 18 months is suggested, awaiting possible proceeds from the National Lottery, which is not due to come on stream until 1995.

The earmarking of future lottery funds (providing there is a firm commitment to purchase and interest is paid to compensate for the delay) may well be, as Mr Brooke suggests, an appropriate method for saving other 'starred items' threatened with export.

But the Canova has already been the subject of indecision for more than five years following the original offer to purchase from the Getty Museum. After a failed public appeal, a judicial review, and the refusal of the Cayman Island Trust (its present owner) to sell to the Barclay brothers in the United Kingdom, it has languished - unseen by the public - in a London warehouse.

In these circumstances it may be questionable whether the Getty Museum should, in all fairness, be required to wait a further considerable period before receiving a definitive answer. Accordingly, it would seem that an immediate decision is needed from Mr Brooke to take account of this exceptional situation once the consultation period ends within 10 days.

There appear to be three alternatives. The first would be, once the agreement of the National Heritage Memorial Fund had been obtained to make this acquisition, for the Secretary of State to obtain a loan from the Treasury to be repaid within a year from the proceeds of the lottery.

Second, if this solution should be deemed a precedent that no one is prepared to face up to, then the Secretary of State should apply to the Treasury for funds amounting to pounds 7.6m to complete a purchase at once (providing the Getty is prepared to withdraw any legal rights it may have negotiated with the owner).

Finally, to the regret of many art lovers in this country, The Three Graces could be allowed to leave for California without the confusion of the lottery factor causing further delay.

Yours faithfully,



H. Blairman & Sons

London, W1

24 January