Museums United Kingdom

Gallery looks to raise £12.5m to keep Van Dyck self-portrait in the UK

Export licence deferred to allow the National Portrait Gallery to match a foreign buyer’s price

Van Dyck’s Self-portrait, 1640-41

London’s National Portrait Gallery is launching a £12.5m appeal to acquire a self-portrait by Van Dyck that has been bought by an anonymous foreign collector. The UK culture secretary has deferred an export licence, to allow a domestic buyer to match the price.

The Van Dyck self-portrait, 1640-41, was sold by the Earl of Jersey at Sotheby’s in 2009. It was then bought for £8.3m by the Milwaukee collector and dealer Alfred Bader, in association with the London dealer Philip Mould.

The Art Newspaper revealed that the portrait gallery and Tate were hoping to jointly buy the picture from its new owners (April 2010, p6). However, a grant request to the National Heritage Memorial Fund was not awarded, because of a shortage of funds, making it impossible to proceed. Following lengthy negotiations, Mould has now finalised a sale to a foreign private collector. On 14 November, an export licence was deferred.

The Tate is no longer involved in a joint acquisition bid, because last May it bought Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1831, for £23.1m, with a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A Tate spokeswoman says that the gallery is “not in a position to undertake another national fundraising campaign”.

The portrait gallery has until 13 February to confirm its serious intention to raise the funds (which it will almost certainly do) and until 13 July to meet the full purchase price. The Art Fund has pledged £500,000 (plus £150,000 for touring the painting to at least five regional venues) and the gallery is allocating £700,000 from its Portrait Fund and acquisition budget, leaving just over £11m left to raise.

The Van Dyck appeal represents the most important acquisition campaign in the gallery’s history and the largest ever supported by the Art Fund. If successful, it will be the most expensive acquisition by a UK national museum after Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, 1506-07 (bought by the National Gallery in 2004 for £22m), a pair of paintings of the goddess Diana by Titian, 1556-59 (National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland, 2009-11, £95m) and the Tate’s landscape by Constable. During the fundraising campaign, the Van Dyck self-portrait is on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

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