Acquisitions negotiations at Tate and The Armouries: You win some, you lose some

A mysterious donor gives the Tate £12.5 million to buy Reynolds’ Omai but the Armouries fail to get Lottery support for two armours


The big surprise in the Tate’s campaign to save “Omai” has been news of an anonymous donor who is offering the gallery £12.5 million to buy the Reynolds portrait. The promised gift represents the largest single donation ever made to a UK public collection to buy a painting.

The question now is whether the present owner, who has applied for an export licence, will agree to sell to the Tate. The licence has been deferred until 17 September, to allow a UK purchaser to match the price. At an earlier stage, the owner did give an undertaking that he would be willing to accept a matching offer. However, should the owner wish to keep the painting in Britain, he can simply withdraw the licence application.

When announcing the mystery donation for “Omai”, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota commented that it could still be “a long story”.

Meanwhile, the National Portrait Gallery is close to acquiring another picture which includes Omai: William Parry’s portrait of the Tahitian Omai, Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, which it failed to buy last year. An export licence was then deferred, with a valuation of £1,815,000, and the buyer was the Australian National Portrait Gallery.

The Australian gallery failed to raise the money to complete the purchase and the painting has now been offered to UK public collections (through Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd) for almost half the sum, £950,000. Three institutions want to buy it together—London’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. So far they have raised £750,000 (including support from National Art Collections Fund), and are hopeful of soon finding the final £200,000.

The Royal Armouries has failed to acquire two very important pieces of armour which have now gone abroad, after the Heritage Lottery Fund turned down grant applications.

These were a 1480 helmet by Lorenz Helmschmied of Augsburg (£1,590,000) and a Nuremberg armour of 1495 (£2,802,000), shown here. Unconfirmed reports suggest that both have been bought by the New York collector Ronald Lauder.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tate and The Armouries: You win some, you lose some'