Sargent’s In the Austrian Tyrol was painted while he was trapped in Austria at the start of the First World War and has been on display until recently at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
It has been temporarily blocked from export as Sargent’s alpine scenes are considered rare in UK collections.
Arts minister Michael Ellis said: “John Singer Sargent spent much of his life in the UK and is highly admired and greatly studied by art lovers across the UK. It would be a great shame if this outstanding work is taken away from the great artist’s spiritual home.
“As a nation we have just concluded our commemorations for the First World War centenary and it is a fitting tribute to the artists embedded in the conflict that we keep this work in the country for public display.”
“Outstanding aesthetic importance”
The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.
The RCEWA made the recommendation on the grounds that the landscape painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance. The committee regarded it as a poignant painting within Sargent’s body of work, agreeing that his landscapes are underrepresented in UK collections.
A buyer must match the £5.75m plus VAT asking price for the work.
Until recently the landscape was on a long-term loan from the descendants of Sargent’s patron, the financier Harry W Henderson, to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
Sargent painted the work when he found himself trapped in foreign territory after the outbreak of the First World War and was unable to return to England for some time.
Experts believe that the landscape depicts Sargent and his guide, resting by a watermill at the foot of the dramatic Sella mountain range in Kolfuschg, Austria - today known as Colfosco and part of Italy.
Born to American parents in Tuscany, Sargent was commissioned as a war artist in 1918 by the British Ministry of Information and went on to depict many aspects of the First World War, including his most famous work, Gassed, which shows the scene at a dressing station as it took in casualties following a mustard gas attack on the Western Front in August 1918. He spent much of his life in England, dying in London in 1925 at the age of 69.
“Fashionable society portraitist”
RCEWA member Aidan Weston-Lewis said: “Celebrated as the most brilliant and fashionable society portraitist of his age, throughout his career Sargent was equally dedicated to painting the landscape, in both oils and watercolours, making regular painting trips into the Alps and elsewhere. This very appealing side of his work is poorly represented in British public collections.
“With its bold, impressionistic brushwork, radical composition – with just a glimpse of sky in the top corner – and the resting figures (by tradition Sargent himself and his guide) immersed in the rugged terrain, In the Austrian Tyrol would make an exceptional acquisition for a museum in this country.”
The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until May 31 and may be extended until October 31, 2019.