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Will we lose the Lusieri landscapes?

Two landscape watercolours by Giovanni Battista Lusieri to be kept in UK temporarily.

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

Watercolour painting of city
Capitoline Hill to the Aventine Hill, Giovanni Battista Lusieri, called Titta Lusieri (1754-1821)

Two remarkable landscape watercolours by Giovanni Battista Lusieri have each had temporary export bars placed on them to provide a last chance to keep them in the UK. Unless matching offers of £481,875 for Panoramic view of Rome: From Saint Pater’s to the Chiesa Nuova and £361,875 for Panoramic view of Rome: From the Capitoline Hill to the Aventine Hill can be raised, the paintings will be exported overseas following their recent sale.

Lusieri was one of the most sophisticated and innovative of eighteenth century landscape artists especially so as he chose to work in watercolour, a medium more closely associated with artists from northern Europe, notably Britain, Germany and Switzerland, rather than Lusieri’s native Italy. These paintings highlight Lusieri’s exceptional technical skills as a draughtsman and watercolourist. There are only five works by Lusieri in UK public collections, but arguably none of the limpid beauty to be found in these two panoramas dating from the very outset of his career.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the paintings following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made their recommendation on the grounds they are of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for study of the history of the development of the landscape watercolour, as well as the work of Lusieri, and the history of English Grand Tour patronage. The watercolours are also of interest for the light they might shed on the work of contemporary British artists working in Rome, such as Francis Towne and Thomas Jones, an influence that remained to be studied in depth.

Last year’s exhibition of Lusieri’s works at the Scottish National Gallery demonstrated how crucial the study of his work is to understanding the development of the panorama and of painting directly from nature

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

There is much more research to be done on these pivotal works, and with so few examples of Lusieri’s work in UK public collections, I hope we can find a buyer to keep them in the UK.

Referring to the importance of the works, RCEWA member Aidan Weston-Lewis commented:

Acquired directly from the artist by an English patron, these exceptional views belong to a key moment in the evolution of the panoramic cityscape. With their unerring draughtsmanship and magical effects of light and aerial perspective, they are also works of stunning beauty.

The decision on the export licence application for the paintings will be deferred for a period ending on 18 March 2014 inclusive. This period may be extended until 18 July 2014 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the paintings is made at the recommended price of £481,875 (net of VAT) for the Panoramic view of Rome: From Saint Pater’s to the Chiesa Nuova and £361,875 (net of VAT) for Panoramic view of Rome: From the Capitoline Hill to the Aventine Hill.

Further information

Published 19 December 2013