The British government has placed a temporary export ban on Pablo Picasso’s painting Child With A Dove in the hope that funds can be raised to keep the iconic work in the United Kingdom. The painting is privately owned by the Aberconway family of North Whales and has been on loan to the National Gallery since 1974. In March, Christie’s confirmed that the family appointed the auction house to sell the masterpiece for undisclosed reasons, sparking the concern that the painting could leave Britain. Last Friday, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced that he had made the decision to temporarily ban export of the piece, preventing the work from leaving the country until December 16. Further, if a “serious” attempt to meet the asking price is made by a private buyer or institution outside Britain, the ban could last until June 16, 2013.
The painting is valued at $80 million. Painted in Paris in 1901 when Picasso was only 19 years old, the work marks the start of the Spanish painter’s famed “Blue Period.” The painting was bequeathed to Lady Aberconway in 1947 by Samuel Courtauld, the legendary industrialist and prolific art collector, who acquired the painting in 1924.
Minister Vaizey based his decision on recommendations by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which is administered by Arts Council England. The question was evaluated according to the three Waverley Criteria, which articulate limited circumstances in which the government may impose export restrictions on artworks. The criteria include: (a) whether a work is “so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune,” (b) whether the artwork is of “outstanding aesthetic importance,” and (c) whether the artwork is of “outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning, or history.” The Reviewing Committee ruled that the painting fulfilled all three. Aidan Weston-Lewis, a Reviewing Committee member, stated, “Child with a Dove is a much-loved painting whose iconic status, together with its long history in British collections–laterally on loan to public galleries–make it of outstanding importance to our national heritage.”
The export ban provides cultural institutions “a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom,” according to the Culture Ministry. This approach recently proved successful, when earlier this month, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford purchased Edouard Manet’s portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, after Minister Vaizey placed a similar export ban on the work. The ban provided the museum with the extra eight months it needed to collect the $12.5 million purchase price from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund, as well as donations from trusts, foundations, and private individuals.
Additionally, public institutions in England can pay significantly less for artworks than their market prices through private sale arrangements that provide shared tax advantages to the two parties (the original price of the Manet work was $45.4 million). Thus, the steep asking-price for Child With A Dove is likely to be higher than what a British museum may ultimately end up paying, if time is provided to raise funds to purchase the work.
Following the Manet episode, it appears that Vaizey is seeking a similar result in this case.