Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (also known as Job ben Solomon) (1701-73) by William Hoare (c.1707-72), 1733. © Christie’s Images Limited; collection Qatar Museums Authority; on long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Calls to reform export licensing system

Rebecca Atkinson, 24.01.2011
Export licensing system weighted against museums, says Art Fund
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said it may look at reforming the export licensing system following concerns that owners of works may refuse to sell to museums after funds have been raised.

Owners of works are currently required to verbally confirm their willingness to accept a matching offer from a museum as soon as the export licence is deferred and again in writing at the end of the first deferral period. But this is not legally binding and there have been a number of cases where owners have changed their minds, even though they had agreed in writing they would sell.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, wrote to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt last week calling for the introduction of binding obligations on owners to sell export-stopped work if a museum can raise a matching offer. The Art Fund believes the current system is weighted against museums.

“This will ensure all parties are clear from the start, and will remove the uncertainty among museums when deciding whether to launch a fundraising appeal for an export-stopped work of art,” Deuchar told Museums Journal. “It will also remove donors’ doubts about donating to a campaign.”

A spokesman for the DCMS acknowledged that there have been cases where owners of works have refused offers from museums or galleries, despite previously giving assurances they that they would accept.

He added: “This is extremely unfortunate as a great deal of effort and goodwill goes into raising this money and we will be looking again at ways to deter such practices.”

Last year, the owner of William Hoare’s Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo refused to sell the work to the National Portrait Gallery in London, despite it successfully raising enough funds to match an offer at auction by the Qatar Museum Authority (QMA). Instead, QMA agreed to lend the work to the gallery for a five-year period.
In another case, the Burrell Collection raised £389,600 – including a £150,000 Art Fund award – to buy an export-stopped jewel-encrusted tiger’s head known as the Tipu Sultan’s Throne Finial but the owner refused to sell the object to it.


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28.01.2011, 15:20
Correction: obviously that should have been "... presumably the *sellers* would have been indifferent ..." etc. (An edit facility for comments would be nice!).
28.01.2011, 15:17
It's not really clear from this report (or from a TV news item I saw about the same story) what the owners' motivations were in these cases. Were the owners refusing to sell to those specific would-be public buyers? Or had they changed their minds about selling at all, and decided to keep the item? If the latter, there's not much that can be done, but if the former then the circumstances of sale could do with some clarification: if the item was originally sold at auction, presumably the buyers would have been indifferent to who would buy it, since they would have no control over who placed the highest bid. It therefore makes no sense for them to prefer the buyer at auction to an alternative buyer from a public body -- indeed many sellers would presumably welcome such a substitution. If it was not at auction, however, then how did the sale come about? Did the seller contact the buyer proactively and offer it to them because they specifically wanted **that buyer** to have the item? We really need to know more about the circumstanaces and motivations before making a judgement on the best response.

I think there's a case for legislating that if works on some putative national register are sold, then sellers should be obliged to sell them to a UK public body if it is able to match the winning bid.