Government blocks export of ‘outstanding' John Singer Sargent painting

In The Austrian Tyrol is valued at £5.75m.

The Government is blocking the export of a multimillion-pound painting by American artist John Singer Sargent.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis placed a temporary export bar on In The Austrian Tyrol, a 1914 landscape valued at £5.7 million, which was painted while the artist was trapped behind enemy lines during the First World War.

Citing how Sargent (1856–1925) spent “much of his life” in the UK, Mr Ellis said it would be a “fitting tribute to the artists embedded in the conflict that we keep this work in the country”.

Conservative Party MP
Arts, Heritage and Tourism Minister Michael Ellis placed a temporary export bar on the painting (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The bar comes after a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council.

However, the work remains at risk unless a UK buyer willing to match the asking price can be found.

Mr Ellis said: “John Singer Sargent spent much of his life in the UK and is highly admired and greatly studied by art lovers across the UK.

“The Alps were a place close to Sargent’s heart and this passion is felt in the detail and beauty of the final piece. It would be a great shame if this outstanding work is taken away from the great artist’s spiritual home.

“As a nation we have just concluded our commemorations for the First World War centenary and it is a fitting tribute to the artists embedded in the conflict that we keep this work in the country for public display.”

The minister previously stepped in to block the export of a painting by JMW Turner “for the benefit of the nation”.

The artist’s Walton Bridges, an oil on canvas thought to have been painted in 1806, was sold at auction in July last year for £3.4 million, with its export blocked in November.

Art historians believe Sargent’s work depicts him and a guide resting by a watermill at the foot of the Sella mountain range in Kolfuschg, Austria, today known as Colfosco and part of Italy.

RCEWA member Aidan Weston-Lewis said: “Celebrated as the most brilliant and fashionable society portraitist of his age, throughout his career Sargent was equally dedicated to painting the landscape, in both oils and watercolours, making regular painting trips into the Alps and elsewhere.

“This very appealing side of his work is poorly represented in British public collections.”

The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until May 31.

It may be extended until October 31 “if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £5,750,000″.

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