A 15th century painting by ‘one of the leading and most influential painters’ of the golden age of Flemish art has been secured for the nation thanks to private donors and a £1.99 million contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Last November, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on ‘St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child’ by Dieric Bouts the Elder. It had formed part of the collection of the Penhryn Castle, a National Trust property in Gwynedd, Wales and was due to be sold to a foreign buyer. Following the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England, the government deferred an export licence to allow time for a UK buyer to match the asking price of £3.3 million.
Faced with this challenge, the Bowes Museum in Durham sought to raise the necessary funding from private donors, the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It managed to secure £2,290,650, which was sufficient to keep the painting in the UK. The largest contribution was the £1.99 million provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which distributes a share of the income from National Lottery ticket buyers. While the painting will be housed permanently in Durham, the Bowes Museum plans to work in partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery where it will be displayed in temporary exhibitions.
One of the first northern European painters to use single-point perspective, Bouts is thought to have been born in Haarlem, Netherlands around 1400. He was also a pioneer of oil-painting technique. When the RCEWA heard the case for the export bar in October 2015 it considered the painting to be ‘of exceptional interest’ for its connection with Bouts and for the subject of St Luke drawing the Virgin. Both these features were deemed ‘extremely rare, particularly in the context of UK collections’ and combined to make the work ‘an important, and indeed unique, British cultural asset’.