Confirmation (c.1637-40) by Poussin has been in Britain for almost 240 years.
The picture is part of Poussin’s series titled The Seven Sacraments which is widely regarded as the artist’s most important commission and marked a turning point in Poussin’s career at the birth of the French classical tradition.
They were painted for the Roman polymath and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo and Confirmation is arguably the most significant from this series.
“Profound impact on British art”
Arts minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “The painting has had a profound impact on British art over the last 240 years and I sincerely hope a buyer comes forward to save it for the nation.”
The minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest ((RCEWA).
The committee agreed that this is an extraordinary painting with a fascinating British history and that its importance could not be overstated and recommended the sum of £19m as a fair matching price to buy the painting.
The first British collector to try and acquire the group of pictures was Sir Robert Walpole sometime before 1745, but the Pope blocked their departure from Rome. Later the Duke of Rutland was successful in the mid-1780s.
“England is richer than it was, by this acquisition”
Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding president of the Royal Academy, wrote in September 1786 of the acquisition of The Seven Sacraments, that “Rome…is now much poorer, as England is richer than it was, by this acquisition”.
Outside France, Britain has the strongest holdings of Poussin’s work in the world.
During its 240 years in the UK, Confirmation has been on show in top museums including on loan to the National Gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2011 and the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2013.
It returned to Dulwich on long-term loan in 2016, where it remains.
Committee member Christopher Baker said: “Nicolas Poussin’s cycle of paintings each depicting one of the Seven Sacraments was revolutionary: no artist had treated the theme in this way before. He transports you to the early years of Christianity. Confirmation is arguably the most accomplished in the sequence.”
The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on January 9, 2023.