Museums United Kingdom

Export licence deferred for altarpiece heading to Boston

A UK buyer now has a chance to match the £1.8m sale price of the huge painting by Benjamin West

West’s Devout Men Taking the Body of St Stephen, 1776

A UK export licence has been deferred for Benjamin West’s altarpiece Devout Men Taking the Body of St Stephen, 1776, which is being sold by the church of St Stephen Walbrook, in the City of London.

The sale, arranged by the London dealer Ben Elwes Fine Art, proved controversial, but it was authorised by a Church of England court last July. As The Art Newspaper reported, West’s alterpiece was bought by Edward (Ned) Johnson III, the Boston-based chairman of Fidelity Investments, although his office would not confirm this.

The huge painting will go to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, probably on long-term loan, for display at the entrance to the Art of the Americas Wing. A UK buyer is now allowed to match the £1.8m sale price. The export licence has been deferred until 18 March 2014, but this could be extended until 18 July if a museum or individual steps forward with a serious intention to raise the funds.

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