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Refusal of further temporary export licence for Joshua Reynolds’ Omai

Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting of Omai will stay in the UK following Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s refusal to grant a temporary export licence

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The painting has been on display at the National Gallery of Ireland for more than five years and has only just returned to the UK.

Mr Vaizey is acting on the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA), who recommended that permission be refused as the artwork has been identified as a national treasure and has already been out of the country on a temporary licence for a long period of time.

Ed Vaizey said: “The temporary export licence system is an excellent way to allow works of significant national importance to travel overseas where they may be enjoyed by audiences around the world before returning to the UK.

“Joshua Reynolds’ Omai is an outstanding work of art which has already spent more than five years overseas and I do not want to see the regime being undermined by repeated use of temporary licences, so I have refused to grant a second licence on this occasion.”

The Government has been concerned for some time about the potential for the long-term use of temporary licences to undermine the export control system.  DCMS is currently consulting on proposed changes to the scheme which would see temporary export licences for national treasures only being granted for a maximum of three years, with no extension. The consultation runs until 1 August, 2012.

DCMS is particularly seeking views from exporters of cultural objects, expert advisers who scrutinise objects of cultural interest on their national importance and others involved in the export licensing regime for cultural objects.

Notes to Editors

  1. The export licensing consultation runs until 1 August 2012.

  2. Additional information on the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.

  3. **Background to the case
    In October 2002 an application was made to permanently export Omai from the UK to Dublin. The painting was valued at £12.5 million.  The application came before the Reviewing Committee in December 2002, who found Omai be a national treasure (meeting all three of the Waverley criteria), “starred” it and recommended a deferral period of an initial three months for expressions of interest, followed by a further six months to raise the funds, which was accepted by the then Secretary of State.  

The Tate expressed a serious intention to acquire the painting at the end of the first deferral period and deferral was then extended to September 2003.   The Tate secured funding from an anonymous private donor and made an offer to purchase the painting at the fair matching price of £12.5 million as determined by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the Committee. The owner did not accept this offer, and, in accordance with normal policy, a permanent export licence was refused.

Subsequently, the owner made an application for a temporary export licence to export the painting to Ireland to display at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI). This application requested that the licence should be for six and a half years. The licence was granted and, following a short extension of four months, the painting has now been returned to the UK at the end of the agreed period.

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Published 2 July 2012