“This acquisition is amongst the most important we, as a nation, could ever make, and will be remembered for generations to come. If we are successful in acquiring the work, Omai will be unveiled to the public at the National Portrait Gallery's reopening in summer 2023, before being shared widely with audiences.”
This hugely significant work depicts the young Polynesian man Mai, or Omai, as he was also called in Britain, who arrived in England with Captain Cook in 1774. Touring London and beyond, Mai caused a sensation in Georgian high society before departing for Polynesia in 1776.
Widely regarded as the finest portrait by one of Britain’s greatest artists, this painting holds a pivotal place in global art history. The work has always been in private ownership and has not been on public display in the UK for over a decade. There is now a unique opportunity to secure this masterpiece for the National Portrait Gallery, so that it can be shared with the public forever.
Omai (Mai), d. 1779, By Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776, Oil on canvas, 236 x 145.5cm. Image courtesy the owner / National Portrait Gallery
How your donation will help
Art Fund and National Portrait Gallery members feel passionately about supporting the UK’s public collections, and it is the collective power of our supporters that has enabled us to act throughout our history.
We’ve been working closely with the National Portrait Gallery to raise the funds needed to secure the portrait, as they explore every possible option to ensure this remarkable portrait is not lost. Art Fund has awarded an exceptional grant of £2.5 million, alongside a major pledge of £10 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Thanks to the support of trusts, foundations and individuals, together we’ve raised almost half the £50 million needed. There remains a very ambitious challenge, but this is a unique chance to bring a painting of outstanding international significance into public ownership.
If you would like to help save the Portrait of Omai, so that it can be shared with everyone forever, please consider donating. Any donation, of any size, will make a difference and help to galvanise further support.
If you would like to discuss making a contribution of £10,000 or more, please contact Scarlett Millar in Art Fund’s Development team on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7225 4843.