Government plans tougher art export rules

New regulations to ‘protect museums’

Owners of valuable works of art may be forced to sell if UK museums are able to match their sale price.

Ministers are proposing to strengthen rules which aim to prevent the export of significant art, antiques and antiquities. They are consulting on new regulations which would effectively mean that owners will have to ‘honour their commitment’ to sell when a matching offer is made from a UK buyer.

Current regulations delay the sale of a significant artwork to allow time for UK buyers, such as museums, to raise the funds to match the price the owner paid. However, the owner cannot currently be forced to sell even if the price is matched.

Public consultation, on the new rules, called Strengthening the Process for Retaining National Treasures, has been launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and is open until midnight on February 23.

Image shows Jacopo da Pontormo's Young Man in a Red Cap

The move follows the case of a painting, Jacopo da Pontormo's Young Man in a Red Cap bought by a US collector for £30m and issued with a temporary export bar. The National Gallery, aided by a £19m grant, matched the price, but the owner claimed that the fall in the value of the pound meant that the asking price had gone up to £38m.

The proposals set out in the consultation will introduce a formal, legally binding agreement with private sellers, instead of the current ‘gentleman’s agreement’. This would remove the risk of an owner reneging on any sale.

Over the last 10 years, 40% of items at risk of export – valued at around £97m - were saved for the nation by UK museums and galleries. The remaining 60% were exported overseas.

Michael Ellis, minister for arts, heritage and tourism, said that the rise in value of many artworks meant it was time to strengthen the process. “These plans would protect museums that fundraise in good faith and help to keep national treasures in the UK where they can be seen and enjoyed by the public.”


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