Press release

Arts Minister steps in to save £5 million Sargent First World War landscape from export

A painting by official war artist John Singer Sargent, is at risk of export unless a UK buyer can be found to match the £5,750,000 + VAT asking price.

John Singer Sargent painting
  • Arts Minister Michael Ellis has stepped in to prevent a £5 million John Singer Sargent painting from export
  • ‘In the Austrian Tyrol’ was painted while Sargent was trapped in Austria at the start of the First World War

A painting by official war artist John Singer Sargent, is at risk of export unless a UK buyer can be found to match the £5,750,000 + VAT asking price.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis has placed a temporary export bar on Sargent’s ‘In the Austrian Tyrol’, painted in the autumn of 1914 when he found himself trapped in foreign territory after the outbreak of the First World War and unable to return to England.

Experts believe that the landscape depicts Sargent and his guide, resting by a watermill at the foot of the dramatic Sella mountain range in Kolfuschg, Austria - today known as Colfosco and part of Italy.

From the late 1850s until 1873, the Sargent family visited the Alps almost every year, however he did not begin to paint the region until the early 1900s. The visit in 1914 marked the longest period of time Sargent spent in the mountains since his childhood visits.

A complex piece, ‘In Austrian Tyrol’ represents one of Sargent’s Alpine scenes which are rare in UK collections. It was selected for the Sargent Memorial exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1926 as one of the best examples of his work.

Until recently the landscape was on a long-term loan from the descendants of Sargent’s patron, the financier Harry W. Henderson to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.

Arts Minister Michael 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.

Born to American parents in Tuscany, Sargent is one of the most admired artists of his generation, well-known as a leading society portrait painter but also famous for his landscapes. He was commissioned as a war artist in 1918 by the British Ministry of Information and went on to depict many aspects of the First World War, including his most famous work, ‘Gassed’ which shows the scene at a dressing station as it took in casualties following a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918. He spent much of his life in England, dying in London in 1925 at the age of 69.

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation 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 the recommendation on the grounds that the landscape painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance. The committee regarded it as a poignant painting within Sargent’s body of work, agreeing that his landscapes are underrepresented in UK collections.

RCEWA member Aidan Weston-Lewis commented:

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.

With its bold, impressionistic brushwork, radical composition – with just a glimpse of sky in the top corner – and the resting figures (by tradition Sargent himself and his guide) immersed in the rugged terrain, In the Austrian Tyrol would make an exceptional acquisition for a museum in this country.

The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until 31 May 2019. This may be extended until 31 October 2019 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £5,750,000 million (plus VAT).

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Michael Ellis. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing it should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Details of the oil painting are as follows  
Name In the Austrian Tyrol (1914)
Artist John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925)
Material Oil on canvas
Dimensions 54.6 x 69.9 cm
  • The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by The Arts Council, which advises the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.

  • The Arts Council champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. www.artscouncil.org.uk

Published 1 March 2019