Nation loses Old Master painting after pound plummets

London’s National Gallery confirmed on Thursday (16 February) that it lost the bid to acquire Pontormo’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap’ (1530).

One of only 15 surviving portraits by the Italian Old Master, real name Jacopo Carrucci, it was sold to US hedge fund owner, Tom Hill, by the Earl of Caledon in 2015. In December 2015, it was temporarily barred from export by the former Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey who was concerned to help save the painting for the British nation. With the export bar in place, the National Gallery set to work raising the £30,618,987 necessary to match the sale price. 

Despite the gallery’s efforts, Hill rejected the offer because of the £8 million loss he would incur on the sale due to the post-Brexit slump in the value of the pound. According to The Art Newspaper, the National Gallery recently offered to raise further funds to cover part of this shortfall. This offer was declined by Hill.

On Wednesday (15 February), Secretary of State for Culture, Karen Bradley, confirmed that she had refused to issue an export licence for the painting. It must now remain in the UK but there are no plans in place for it to be loaned to the National Gallery.

The funds raised by the National Gallery constituted the third largest sum ever raised by a UK museum for an acquisition. According to the gallery, the breakdown in funding was as follows:

Art Fund Director, Stephen Deuchar, said the failed bid to acquire the portrait for the UK public reflected weaknesses in the country’s export control system. He insisted that applicants for export licenses should be legally bound to commit to adhering to the rules of the system and called on the government to implement reforms ‘to help better protect our nation’s most important works of art so they may remain in the UK, held in trust for current and future generations’.


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