Government extends export bar on Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai

Installation view of Omai (Mai), d. 1779, By Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776, Oil on canvas, 236 x 145.5cm
Installation view of Omai (Mai), d. 1779, By Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776, Oil on canvas, 236 x 145.5cm

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay has extended the export bar on Portrait of Omai by Sir Joshua Reynolds until 10 June 2023, in an effort to ensure the work will be available for public view in the UK. The National Portrait Gallery is attempting to raise the £50 million necessary to acquire the painting and include the work in the UK’s national collection.

Portrait of Omai by Sir Joshua Reynolds (c1776) depicts Mai, the first Polynesian to visit Britain. Widely regarded as the finest portrait by one of Britain’s greatest artists, the 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 since 2005.

The National Portrait Gallery and Art Fund are working together to raise the funds needed to acquire the painting, so that it can be in public ownership and on public view in the UK, in perpetuity.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund has pledged £10m, one of its most significant pledges of support, to help save the work, and Art Fund has given an exceptional grant of £2.5m, the largest in its history. Many generous trusts, foundations and individuals, alongside over 1,600 Art Fund members and supporters have generously donated, and as a result almost half the £50m needed to acquire the work has now been raised.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, National Portrait Gallery’s Director, said: 'This acquisition is one of the most significant our nation could ever make, and will be remembered, and enjoyed, for generations. If we are successful in acquiring the work, Omai will be unveiled to the public at the National Portrait Gallery's reopening in June 2023, before being shared widely with audiences. I am extremely grateful to all of our funders and the thousands of individuals who have pledged support and would like to extend our thanks to the owner of this magnificent painting for their full cooperation throughout the licence application process.'

Jenny Waldman, director, Art Fund, said: 'We have a unique opportunity to secure this work for the public and welcome the government generously allowing this extra time to collaborate on the optimum means to help make this happen. We’re incredibly grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and the many trusts, individuals and Art Fund members who have donated. We call on those who can help, to come together with us now, so that everyone will have a chance to see this work in future.'

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