Detail from the painting Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap by Jacopo Pontormo.

National Gallery’s Rejected $38 Million Bid Sparks Calls to Reform UK Export System

UK’s export system has come under fire after an American collector turned down London’s National Gallery’s $38 million bid to buy a Jacopo Pontormo painting because of the declining post-Brexit exchange rate, Mark Brown of The Guardian reports.

US hedge-fund owner Tom Hill purchased Pontormo’s Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap, 1530, one of only fifteen surviving portraits by the Florentine painter, from the Earl of Caledon in 2015 despite an agreement with the National Gallery, where it was on loan, in which the institution would be given a three-month advance warning if the work was to be sold.

Former culture minister Ed Vaizey issued a temporary export ban so that the gallery could raise enough funds to match Hill’s offer, but due to the current exchange rate, Hill would be taking a roughly $10 million loss on the transaction if he accepted the recent bid.

Art Fund, who contributed around $935,000 to the National Gallery’s fundraising campaign, is demanding new reforms for the export system. Director Stephen Deuchar called the refusal of the offer “a great cultural loss to the nation.” He added, “We believe the UK’s art export control system should serve our public collections more effectively than at present.”

A spokeswoman for the department of culture, media, and sport said, “The UK’s cultural export controls help to keep national treasures such as TE Lawrence’s dagger and Jane Austen’s ring in the country. While it’s not possible to save every object, the system is designed to strike the right balance between protecting our national cultural heritage and individual property rights.”

Deuchar said that part of the problem with the current system is that “license applicants should be required to give a clear and legally binding commitment to abide by the rules—which they are not at present.”

A spokeswoman for Hill stated that the collector was “willing to lend the work for display in the UK, Europe, and the US.” In response, the National Gallery said that it has no plans to borrow the work at this time.

In order to purchase the piece, the National Gallery raised around $24 million from the treasury, $5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, $4 million from American Friends of the National Gallery, $2.6 million from private donations, $1.6 million from the National Gallery Trust, $935,000 from the Art Fund, and $311,000 from bequests.