Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai to remain in the UK, but in private hands

The painting which was bought at Sotheby's was banned from leaving the country - now what?


Background: Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai was sold at Sotheby’s in London on 29 November 2001. The buyer was not announced, but is believed to be Dublin collector John Magnier. An export licence application was made and in March 2003 the Tate raised the money for a £12.5 million ($23.3 million) matching offer, thanks to a pledge from an anonymous donor. The owner refused the offer and an export licence was therefore refused, meaning the painting has to remain in the UK.

Our request: Full information on the attempt to buy, or borrow, the portrait, including contacts with its owner and fundraising efforts.

What we got: Nothing yet. Tate promised to respond within four weeks, but then asked for a further week. On the day after the initial four weeks expired, it was announced by the Tate that the owner of Omai would be lending the portrait to the gallery’s Reynolds show (see right). Will any papers relating to this loan be included in what Tate eventually releases?

What next: We expect to get access to the Tate’s papers shortly and will report back.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tate Gallery: Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai'