Omai to go on loan to Tate

Is this a prelude to its sale to the gallery?


The anonymous owner of the Portrait of Omai is lending it to the Reynolds exhibition, “The creation of celebrity” currently at Ferrara’s Palazzo dei Diamanti (until 1 May) and later at Tate Britain (May-September). The painting has been at the centre of a tug of war between the owner, believed to be Dublin collector John Magnier, and the Tate (see left). It is not yet clear whether the owner’s willingness to lend the painting to the exhibition might indicate a change of heart over his refusal to sell the work to the Tate.

A month ago, an export licence was deferred on another Reynolds portrait, The archers, which depicts Colonel John Acland and Lord Sydney (Dudley Sydney Cosby). The painting had been acquired by Australian collector John Schaeffer at Christie’s in 2000, for £1.65 million. He apparently kept it in the UK and never applied for an export licence. Mr Schaeffer has had financial problems, and recently offered the Reynolds to London dealer Nevill Keating Tollemache, who may now have found a foreign buyer. The current valuation is £3.2 million, double the price of five years ago, but the picture has been successfully restored. The initial deferral period runs until 26 March, but as we went to press no UK institution had announced an intention to try to buy the Reynolds. The archers is also being shown in the exhibition in Ferrara and London.

Another export deferral case was resolved when the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge successfully acquired the Macclesfield Psalter, for £1.7 million, with help from the National Art Collections Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Unless the money had been raised, the 14th-century manuscript would have gone to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.