Ministers are being urged to extend an export ban on Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Portrait of Omai’, which features one of the UK’s first non-white celebrities, as a race comes began raising £50 million to maintain culturally sensitive work in the UK.
Lord Ed Vaizey, a former Tory culture minister, and leading historians have written to the Financial Times asking ministers to allow more time to raise funds to prevent the portrait “permanently being lost into British hands”. .
Officials say the 18th-century portrait of the People of the Pacific Island belongs to John Magnier, the owner of the Irish billionaire horse, and is currently kept in the UK. Magnier’s office declined a request for comment.
Mai, her real name, accompanied Captain Cook on HMS Adventure to London in 1774 and became an instant celebrity, meeting King George III, attending the Opening of Parliament and touring the country.
The group of writers affirms the work as “a landmark work in the history of colonialism, scientific discovery and of the Pacific” and says it has “unique historical and cultural importance”. “.
Nadine Dorries, Allied Culture Minister, said she would “sympathize” with calls to extend the temporary export ban beyond its July 10 expiration date, with a decision expected this week. .
Government imposed temporary export ban on the portrait in March, saying there was a risk it left the UK, but the £50m valuation needed to buy the work was out of reach of UK galleries.
Dorries’ colleagues say the government has not been asked for a financial contribution, but the Minister wants to give fundraisers time to raise the necessary funds.
The export ban was initially introduced in March to allow time for a UK gallery or organization to purchase the painting. Ministers said it could be extended until March 2023 if there was a “serious” fundraising effort.
Arts Minister Lord Stephen Parkinson said at the time: “This stunning painting is striking in its scale, attention to detail and the valuable insights it provides about society that Reynolds has provided. drew it”.
In the letter to the FT, experts from universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard joined Vaizey and historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, saying the work “documents the historic meeting between the British and British worlds” non-European countries”.
They called on the government to back a fundraising campaign, adding: “The story of Mai is now more relevant than ever as we seek to examine our past and understand who we are as is a country”.
Reynolds’ life-size painting, showing Omai in a soaring white Tahitian dress with a classical pose, is recognized as a masterpiece of 18th-century portraiture, but also marks a life cultural and historical encounter between western society and one of the earliest travelers from Polynesia.
Reynolds’ exhibited the painting at the Royal Academy in 1776, but he kept it close by in his studio. It was then passed on to the Earl of Carlisle family before being sold at Sotheby’s in 2001 for £10.3 million.
The painting has been independently valued today at £50 million – the highest value collectively for a work of art banned from export. Picasso’s “Child with a Pigeon” was also valued at £50 million in 2012.
“Omai” has not been seen publicly in the UK for almost 20 years, after it was shown at an exhibition of Reynolds paintings at Tate Britain in 2005.
Lucy Ward, an author fundraising campaign coordinator, says the work is distinctive as a work of art but also provides insights into “how a non-white tourist and his culture are perceived in the UK Georgia”.