Press release

Long lost painting by Watteau, La Surprise is under threat of export

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the outstanding painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, La Surprise. 

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the outstanding painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, La Surprise.  This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom. 

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance.

The painting, which dates from c.1718, shows a man, dressed as the theatrical character Mezzetin, playing a guitar next to an embracing couple. Watteau was associated with paintings of the fetes galantes, a genre of his invention in which elegant couples converse and flirt in an outdoor setting. La Surprise, painted shortly before the artist’s untimely death at the age of 37, shows Watteau at his most inventive. The painting displays a great delicacy of pose and brushwork and has a harmonious composition that recalls the work of Claude Lorrain.

While there are many examples of Watteau’s paintings in public and private collections in the UK, this rediscovered work is in a fine condition for a work by the artist.

Johnny Van Haeften, Reviewing Committee member, said: “La Surprise is undoubtedly one of Watteau’s most important and pleasing works. The fine glazes have not been compromised and the brushwork shows the hand of the master at his best.”

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 6 September 2011 inclusive. This period may be extended until 6 June 2012 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £17,500,000 is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the owner’s agent through:
 
The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Grosvenor House
14 Bennetts Hill
Birmingham
B2 5RS

Tel: 0121 345 7427

Notes to editors

  1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk

  2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Peter Rowlands, RCEWA Secretary, on 0121 345 7427, email peter.rowlands@mla.gov.uk.

  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the recommended fair market price.

  4. The details of the painting are: * Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) * La Surprise (c. 1718) * oil on panel * 36.3 x 28.2 cm

  5. Further details about the painting can be found in the auction catalogue at the Christie’s website.

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