A detail of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (1723-92) portrait of Omai (c. 1776).

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

As reported in Antiques Trade Gazette (issue 2552) the deadline to raise the funds was extended. The picture was temporarily blocked from export in March (see ATG No 2535) and the deadline of July was extended to March 2023.

The life-size painting depicts Omai, who travelled with Captain Cook on HMS Adventure to London in 1774 and became one of the earliest and most celebrated Polynesian visitors to England.

A statement from the National Portrait Gallery said: “Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Omai (c. 1776) is one of the greatest British portraits and a painting of singular national and international cultural significance.

“The National Portrait Gallery is supportive of the crucial efforts being made to give UK institutions the opportunity to acquire this uniquely important painting for the nation to ensure it goes on public display once and for all, where it belongs.

Fundraising leads

“The second deferral period will give us the chance to explore a number of fundraising leads and gives potential supporters the opportunity to come forward to help stop this key work of British culture from leaving.”

After it was painted Reynolds kept the picture in his studio until his death and it was later sold to the 5th Earl of Carlisle. For more than two centuries it passed down the family in Castle Howard in Yorkshire to the 13th Earl, who sold it at Sotheby’s in 2001 for a hammer price of £9.4m (£10.3m including fees). 

Dealer Guy Morrison purchased the painting possibly on behalf of Irish businessman John Magnier.

Then for the past 20 years it has been the subject of two other export blocks.

It was blocked in 2002 and the Tate raised the then £12.5m needed but the offer was refused by the owner.

After other requests to show the work, the Omai portrait was put on display in Dublin’s National Gallery of Ireland for six years. A temporary export licence from the UK was also refused in April 2012.