Friday, January 21, 2011

"Lost" Rubens staying in Britain, for now

Portrait of a Young Woman, attributed to Rubens
Photograph: PA
LONDON. The Export Reviewing Committee has succeeded in delaying the export of a "lost Rubens" until March to allow prospective buyers to match the £1m price paid at auction and keep the painting in Britain. This isn't the first time this practice of restricting the export of artworks has been scrutinized in the media and here - remember the Fatimid ewer?

That case was more controversial because the government sought a valuation from a rival auction house (eventually estimated at £20 million) rather than taking the price paid at auction (£3.2 million) as that which needed to be matched by a third party to keep the ewer in Britain. Unsurprisingly, no buyer could match the £20 million price tag and, following the export of the ewer to Berlin, it was unclear what precedent had been set by the government in going against what had been past practice to date to use the price paid at auction.

The fact that the "Rubens" was estimated at £6 million but only sold for £1 million as a result of its uncertain provenance gave the government an ideal opportunity to require an "independent" (if there is even such a thing) valuation and use that figure instead of the £1 million actually paid. That the government chose not to do so is significant in that it suggests that the export of the Fatimid ewer may have been exceptional. However, only time will tell the extent to which the case of the Fatimid ewer changed the way artworks are exported from Britain. On the other hand, there's always the possibility that the government decides to seek independent valuations arbitrarily, on a case-by-case basis, depending on its interest interest in keeping the artwork in Britain and the price paid for it...


  1. The fact that the "Rubens" was estimated at £6 million but only sold for £1 million was a shock to me. Interesting blog post, thanks.

  2. That is interesting, maybe it's the time or someone got a bargain?

  3. I just guess people are not buying art at the moment, like you said it's a bad time and someone got a bargain!

  4. Interesting, will be great to see what comes of it!