Press release

£1.8m Permoser statuettes at risk of export

A temporary export bar has been placed on two 17th century ivory statuettes by Balthasar Permoser

Two 17th century ivory statuettes are at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £1.8 million. Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock has placed a temporary export bar on the statuettes Autumn and Winter by Balthasar Permoser to keep them in the country.

The statuettes were made in 1695 by Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732), who is considered one of the greatest sculptors of the German Baroque era and the Holy Roman Empire. They are named Autumn and Winter and depict the classical gods Bacchus and Vulcan. Bacchus, the God of wine, is drunkenly eating a bunch of grapes while resting his foot on a wine gourd. Winter is portrayed by an aged Vulcan, the god of fire, who is depicted shielding himself from the cold.

Each of the statuettes bear Permoser’s signature on the back, which is rare among ivory statues from this period. There is only one other work attributed to the sculptor in the UK, the ivory Entombment at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The statuettes were first recorded as belonging to the Duke of Braunschweig and it is believed that they were confiscated on the order of Napoleon in 1806. They were later acquired by Edward Viscount Lascelles in Paris and brought to Harewood House in Leeds.

Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said:

These intricate statuettes are one of the last remaining examples of Permoser’s work in the UK. I hope that we are able to keep them here for the public to enjoy and better understand European influences on British sculpture.

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation regarding the statuettes’ importance by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that the statuettes were of outstanding aesthetic importance. They also made their decision on the grounds that the statuettes were of outstanding significance to the study of international influences in European sculpture, in particular sculpture made in Britain.

RCEWA member Lowell Libson said:

Important examples of Baroque art of northern Europe are relatively sparsely represented in UK public collections, and the remarkable companion statuettes of Autumn and Winter are exceptional for the beauty of their conception and the refinement of their execution. They rank not only as the best and rarest examples of such objects in the UK but as prime examples of the work of the most important northern sculptor of the period. The retention in this country of these princely objects would greatly enhance our holdings and understanding of the fine and decorative arts of the high baroque.

The decision on the export licence application for the statuettes will be deferred until 2 September 2016. This may be extended until 2 December 2016 if a serious intention is expressed during the initial deferral period to raise funds to purchase them at the recommended price of £1.8 million (plus VAT).

Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the statuettes should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

An image of the statuettes can be downloaded here.