Cultural policy Libya

British embassy art burned

Works almost certainly destroyed last month when building was set on fire by pro-Gaddafi protesters

Probably lost: Reinagle’s Harrier Killing a Bittern, 1797, Edmund Havell Jr's William Stratton, c1840, and style of Salvator Rosa, Mountainous Landscape with Travellers, c1715-1720

TRIPOLI. Paintings in the British embassy in Tripoli were almost certainly destroyed last month, when the building was set on fire by pro-Gaddafi protesters. On 1 May crowds ransacked the embassy and ambassadorial residence after Nato air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi’s compound killed members of his family.

The Government Art Col­lection (GAC) had 17 works on loan to Tripoli. The embassy fire probably represents its worst loss since the second world war.

The most important works of art were three historic paintings: Philip Reinagle’s Harrier Killing a Bittern, 1797, Salvator Rosa’s (style of) Mount­ain­ous Land­scape, around 1720, and Edmund Havell Jr’s William Stratton, 1840. There were also two important royal portraits of George V and Mary (after Luke Fildes and William Llew­ellyn).

The residence and the political office of the embassy lies off Sharia al Shatt. The British embassy had to organise an emergency evacuation, with ambassador Richard North­ern and his remaining staff flying out on 26 February. Removal of documents and computers was a priority, and there was no opportunity to save the works (the royal portraits are nearly three metres high).

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