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London’s National Gallery needs £30.7 million to keep a rare Pontormo

September 18, 2016
Pontormo Portrait of a Young Man in Red Cap (1530) Photo: UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Pontormo Portrait of a Young Man in Red Cap (1530)
Photo: UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Pontormo’s 1530 Portrait of a Young Man in Red Cap depicts a self-assured 18-year-old Florentine aristocrat named Carlo Neroni – less confident is the National Gallery’s hope to raise £30.7 million to keep the painting, which had been on view at the estimable London institution, from being exported.  The painting was sold to a non-UK buyer in 2015, despite a loan agreement, according to the Guardianin which the present owner pledged to the National Gallery that it would not be sold while hanging at the museum.

According to a December 23, 2015 statement from on the British government’s website:

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap by Pontormo to provide an opportunity to save it for the nation.

It is one of only 15 portraits by the old master to survive – the majority of which reside in Italy. Academics believed the painting was lost forever when it disappeared in the 18th century, only to be rediscovered in a private art collection in 2008. The portrait was then re-attributed as a genuine Pontormo and published by Christie’s old master specialist Francis Russell.

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London

The initial deadline April 22, 2016 deadline for raising the funds has been extended until October 22.  Significantly, works acquired following an export license referral are usually done so at much less than market value, but this different according to The Art Newspaper:

Normally when works are export-deferred, public collections can often make a private treaty purchase, buying them at a greatly reduced price because of tax concessions. But in this case, the tax has already been paid, raising concerns that this could make it harder for British institutions to raise the necessary funds.

The National Gallery is in discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury to determine whether the tax paid could be refunded to the gallery. The tax was very high, and The Art Newspaper understands that if this was refunded, the gallery would need to raise less than £12m to buy the work. It might also be able to draw on its own Getty Endowment and secure grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (or its associated National Heritage Memorial Fund) and the Art Fund.

The Art Fund is keen for the tax issue to be resolved. Stephen Deuchar, its director, argues that when tax has been paid on an export-deferred work such as the Pontormo, “this should be refunded to any UK museum that is able to raise a matching sum”. Deuchar says that this would be “completely consistent with the Treasury’s existing system of tax concessions to encourage the acquisition of nationally important works by public museums”.

About the seller and the buyer, The Art Newspaper adds:

The portrait was rediscovered by Francis Russell, an Old Master specialist at Christie’s, who published it in the Burlington Magazine in 2008. Although Russell has never identified its owner, the portrait has been in the family of the Earls of Caledon since 1825. In 2008, Nicholas Alexander, the seventh earl, who owns Caledon Castle in Northern Ireland, lent the rediscovered work to the National Gallery in London …

The unidentified buyer is foreign, and Russell has suggested that it may well be a New York-based collector with close links to the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Russell says that the painting was bought in such a way “that it couldn’t be bought in a tax-efficient way by an institution” in the UK. An export licence was deferred by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at a valuation of £30.7m.

We’ll likely know the painting’s fate in the next couple of months; meanwhile, don’t look for it at the National Gallery – it was pulled off view in May 2015.

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