Race is on to keep Pontormo painting in the UK

The race is on to find a UK buyer for a £30m artwork before it is exported for sale to an overseas collector.

A temporary six month export ban has been placed on Pontormo’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap’ by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, according to a statement published by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport on 23 December. 

The painting depicts young aristocrat Carlo Neroni in 1530 and is an example of Mannerism, an artistic style originating in Florence and Rome in the 16th century. It is one of only 15 works in existence by the Italian Old Master Pontormo, whose real name was Jacopo Carrucci. According to Arts Council England, whose Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest recommended the export ban, the portrait is of outstanding aesthetic importance.

Only recently discovered in a private collection in 2008, the work was presumed lost to the world after it disappeared in the 18th century. Since its rediscovery, it has been on loan to the National Gallery of London. The private owner, whose identity is unknown, had agreed to give the Gallery three months’ notice of any intention to sell the painting to avoid tax. In contravention of the agreement, it was recently sold to an overseas collector for £30,618,987.

Now the Culture Minister desperately hopes a buyer will step forth to save the painting before the export ban is lifted and it is once again lost to the UK:

“This masterpiece was once lost to the world for more than 200 years and I want to help make sure the UK doesn’t let it go now… I hope that a buyer comes forward to save this striking painting for the UK public to enjoy.”

The UK has lost several important paintings to international buyers in recent years. Among those to have left the country are Poussin’s ‘The Infant Moses Trampling Pharaoh’s Crown’ and Picasso’s ‘Child with a Dove’.

The use of a temporary export deferral is no longer seen by some as sufficient to prevent the exodus of masterpieces from the UK. Shadow Culture Secretary Michael Dugher has called for an extension of the deferral period from six months to two years to allow enough time to find UK buyers to match the asking price and save precious artworks for the nation:

“Museums across the country have faced heavy government cuts since 2010 and are in no position to find millions to save these objects. The six-month bar placed on export is inadequate.”

In the meantime, the clock is ticking for the Pontormo portrait. The ban on its export will be lifted on 22 April 2016.

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