David Verey on export stops

In the wake of our Van Dyck campaign launch, the Art Fund's chairman celebrates previous successful export stops – from a Manet masterpiece to Jane Austen's ring.

Ever since the Reviewing Committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest was set up in 1952, the Art Fund has been working with museums to try to acquire nationally important works that would otherwise be sold and exported abroad.

The first notable success under the scheme was in 1957, when we helped the National Gallery buy Nicolas Poussin’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1633–4) for just £33,100. Since then, we’ve worked with 61 museums to acquire a further 147 works of art, including Peter Paul Rubens’s The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Infant Baptist (c. 1635) for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, in 1960; Titian’s The Death of Actaeon (1559–75) for the National Gallery in 1972; and most recently Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus (1868, pictured) for the Ashmolean in Oxford in 2012.

We are earnestly hoping that Anthony Van Dyck’s luminous last self-portrait, painted in the year before his death in 1641, will join this roll call of treasures saved. It depicts a hugely influential artist at the end of his life and gives us a poignant glimpse as to how he wanted to be remembered. It richly deserves to take its place alongside the National Portrait Gallery’s internationally important group of self-portraits.

We should be encouraged by recent successes: an export licence was requested earlier this year for Jane Austen’s beautiful turquoise ring, which had been bought at auction in 2012 by the American pop star and self-confessed Austenophile Kelly Clarkson for just over £150,000. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary ban on its export and invited UK museums to see if they could match the price. Jane Austen’s House Museum in Hampshire immediately launched a fundraising appeal. Having secured the hearts of Austen fans across the world, donations came in thick and fast, and a final anonymous donation of £100,000 secured the ring for the museum in September. Kelly Clarkson was gracious in her defeat, congratulating the museum on its success and saying she was ‘happy that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see [the ring] at Jane Austen’s House Museum.’

Now we have just three months to do the same for the Van Dyck, which has also been provisionally sold to an American buyer. We would love to keep this important painting in the UK and – moreover – to bring it into a public collection for the first time. It really is one of the most exquisite and captivating works we have ever been asked to help fund, and we hope that you will feel equally moved to support our campaign to save it.

A sculptor remembered

On a personal note, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sir Anthony Caro in late October at the age of 89. A long-standing supporter of the Art Fund, he was one of the greatest artists of his generation and pivotal to the wider development of sculpture in the UK over the last century. Many of his great works such as Night Movements (1987–90) and Early One Morning (1962) stand prominently in my mind. From studying engineering at the University of Cambridge, he joined the Royal Navy and fought in the Second World War. On his return he studied sculpture before becoming an assistant to Henry Moore in the 1950s. From his breakthrough Whitechapel Gallery show in the early 1960s until his exhibition at the Gasgosian Gallery that opened in June this year, Sir Anthony had a hugely successful and influential career, and left a tide of affection in his wake.

To donate to the Van Dyck campaign visit, or text VANDYCK to 70800 to give £5.

This column appears in the Winter 2013 issue of Art Quarterly. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, please buy a National Art Pass.

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