J. Tomilson Hill

Following Criticisms, US Collector Defends His Refusal to Sell Pontormo Painting to London’s National Gallery

American collector and philanthropist J. Tomilson Hill has responded to the “false statements” made over his decision to reject London’s National Gallery’s $38 million bid for his sixteenth-century Jacopo Pontormo painting, Dalya Alberge of The Guardian reports. Claiming that he has been “battered” by criticism since his refusal to sell the painting after the National Gallery raised enough to match the original offer, Hill said the amount the institution bid was $10 million short due to the decline of the value of the pound post-Brexit.

Hill discovered Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap, 1530—one of only fifteen surviving portraits by the Florentine painter—while it was on loan to the National Gallery between 2008 and 2015. The canvas’s owner, the Earl of Caledon, informed Hill that the work was available for a cash sale. After purchasing the portrait, Hill applied for an export license, which was denied. The culture minster temporarily placed an export bar on the work to give UK institutions time to match the price. Hill said he “would not accept a value for the picture lower than my cost” and that export guidelines state “an owner is entirely free to reject an offer.” He added, “If they had come up with the $48 million, I would have sold the picture.”

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said that Hill must keep the work or sell it in the UK, but he cannot apply for another export license for at least ten years. For now, the work is in storage, but Hill has already been contacted by museums in the UK and abroad requesting that he loan the piece.