An English provincial museum has been able to acquire an export-stopped Old Master painting for a knockdown price of £1.61m thanks to the vendor striking a tax deal.
Had the original buyer, New York dealer Richard Feigen, already paid for the work instead of waiting for the export licence to be granted first, such a deal would not have been possible and the museum would have been faced with raising the full auction price of £4.5m hammer (£5.08m including buyer's premium).
The gold ground devotional panel Christ Between Saint Paul and Saint Peter by Pietro Lorenzetti (fl.1306-45) originally came up at Christie's in July 2012 estimated at £1m-1.5m.
A temporary export bar was placed on the picture earlier this year and it was announced last month that it had been acquired by the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.
After receiving grants from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the gallery was able to acquire the work for 'only' £1.61m thanks to a private treaty sale being arranged which included major tax breaks for the vendor.
Mr Feigen told ATG he had waited to receive an export licence before paying for the picture but added that, in retrospect, it would have been better to pay for it upfront, take possession of the work and then apply for an export licence separately.
Under those circumstances, any public body wishing to purchase the item would have had to match the full auction price (although the VAT on the premium would likely be waived), because title would have passed from the vendor, so a deal offsetting tax liabilities would not have remained an option.
"I'm totally sympathetic with efforts to keep great works of art in the UK or any other country," said Mr Feigen, "but, looking at it purely in the interests of my client, I probably made a mistake."
Rare Autograph Work
The work itself was thought to date from c.1320 and was probably conceived as part of an altarpiece. Little was known about the painting before it emerged at Christie's, although it was thought to have been purchased in the 19th century by the 7th Earl Cowper (1834-1905) and then descended through the family.
It was, in fact, the only fully autograph work by Lorenzetti in the UK and demonstrated the kind of naturalism for which painters like the Sienese artist are credited with foreshadowing the Renaissance.
The work will now undergo a year of conservation at the National Gallery, which will include structural stabilisation, cleaning and restoration, before being put on permanent display at the gallery in Hull.
Meanwhile, the UK government has also placed a export bar on another important Old Master, the Rembrandt (1606-69) self-portrait which sold in October 2007 at Gloucestershire saleroom Moore, Allen & Innocent for £2.2m (outstripping a £1000-1500 estimate and setting a record for a picture sold in the UK provinces).
The buyer of the picture back then was never revealed but was believed to be leading London dealership Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, who were credited when it was loaned for an exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art in 2011.
As reported in May, the 1628 oil-on-copper Rembrandt Laughing has been bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and now, as expected, an attempt to export the picture permanently has been temporarily blocked.
The export licence application for the painting will now be deferred until October, giving any public body or individual wishing to keep it in the UK three months to show a serious intention meet the recommended price of £16.5m.
However, one work that has now been granted an export licence is Raphael's drawing Head of a Young Apostle, which sold for £26.5m hammer at Sotheby's in December 2012. The buyer was reported to be the American collector Leon Black and the deferral period restricting the export expired in early July.
It was previously part of the Duke of Devonshire's collection at Chatsworth, the same source as the 15th century illuminated manuscript The Deeds of Sir Gillion de Trazegnies in the Holy Land, which sold for £3.4m at the same Sotheby's sale. Having been bought by The J. Paul Getty Museum, an export licence has now been granted for this item as well.