Guardi blocked for export - but for how long?
October 17 2011
The vain attempt to stop some of the greatest paintings in England being exported continued today when Francesco Guardi's epic View of the Rialto Bridge was deferred for six months. A UK museum now has six months to try and raise the £26.7m needed to match the price paid for it at auction earlier this year.
A quick look at the value of paintings temporarily refused export shows that the more expensive the picture, the more likely it is to end up being exported (usually to a US museum). The plain fact is that due to the slashing of acquisition funds over the last fifteen years or so, no British museum can afford to compete with international institutions. And, because the recession is creating more selling pressures for the owners of these great works, we have a 'perfect storm' situation for the UK to lose forever some of its greatest treasures.
There is of course one quick and simple way this situation could be avoided - and that is the restoration of a proper acquisition fund. When I was helping to write Conservative arts and heritage policy before the 2005 election (with Hugo Swire MP and John Whittingdale MP) we suggested the creation of a National Acquisition Fund, to be supported by funding from the National Lottery.
David Cameron, who was then in charge of policy and with whom I drafted the arts and heritage manifesto, thought it was a good idea. But so far we've not seen anything similar under the present administration. But the Lottery, or specifically the Heritage Lottery Fund is the one funding stream which has had an increase in revenue, thanks to the Conservative policy (copyright, Whittingdale, Swire & Grosvenor) to increase its share of the Lottery pie. The only problem is, the HLF does not like to fund the acquisition of paintings. It would, via a statutory instrument, be the work of a moment for the government to overturn the HLF's reluctance - so what are we waiting for?