The U.K. government has placed a temporary export ban on a John Singer Sargent painting of a 19th-century British aristocrat worth £7.5 million ($10 million). Officials said they are hoping that a British buyer will pay for the work in order to keep it from leaving the country
Sargent painted the portrait, titled Arthur Ramsay, The Earl of Dalhousie (1899), during a period when he lived in the U.K. Commissioned by the Arbroath district tenantry, the painting depicts a 21-year-old nobleman, and was debuted as part of a coming of age ceremony for the Earl, done around the time he was promoted to a lieutenant position in the British Army. It first belonged to Ramsay and passed through descent to the current owner.
The decision to defer the export license follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by the Arts Council of England. The committee issued its recommendation on the grounds that the portrait painting holds “aesthetic importance,” adding that the painting is of “outstanding significance for the study of Sargent’s work and the wider art, history and culture of the period.” In the committee’s official review of Sargent’s portrait, scholar Caroline Corbeau-Parsons described it as “a contender for his finest portrait of a male sitter” by the artist.
The export bar allows time for a U.K. gallery or museum to acquire the work. The buyer must match its $10 million value. The decision on the export license application for the painting will be deferred until March 3, 2022, after which the painting’s owner will consider offers from buyers.
“There is still so much we can learn from this outstanding portrait,” said Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, the U.K.’s Arts Minister, said in a statement. “It would be a huge loss if this piece were to leave the country.”