Owner of Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai has also loaned Modigliani to Dublin’s National Gallery

Horse breeder John Magnier has given seven other paintings to the institution for at least six years—exempting him from tax should the works be sold


Horse-breeder John Magnier not only owns Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai, but also seven other important paintings which have recently gone on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland. Although their ownership has not been identified by the gallery, it can be deduced from documents released under the Irish Freedom of Information Act.

Gallery board minutes list eight pictures lent by “a private collector”, including Portrait of Omai, which is known to have been bought by a Magnier family trust by 2003. The painting had earlier been sold at Sotheby’s, London on 29 November 2001, to Guy Morrison, a dealer who often acts for Magnier and his family trusts.

The most important work on loan to Dublin is Modigliani’s, Nude reclining (Left Side), which used to belong to casino boss Steve Wynn. It was sold at Christie’s, New York on 4 November 2003 for $26.8m, a record for the artist. Mr Magnier became the anonymous owner.

He has also lent two paintings by Alfred Munnings. These are The Red Prince Mare (Sotheby’s, New York, 5 May 2004, $7.8m), which also broke the auction record for the artist, and Evening at the Ford (Christie’s, London, 26 May 2002, £1.8m). Another equestrian work is Stubbs’ Lord Rockingham’s Bay Malton with John Singleton Up.

The remaining loans are: John Herring Sr’s Shoeing Imaum; Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s Oxen in the Sea and Zoffany’s The Dutton family in the Drawing Room of Sherbourne Park (Sotheby’s, London, 14 June 2001, £3.5m).

Adding in Portrait of Omai (£12.5m), the total cost of the Magnier works on loan must have been approaching £50m ($90m), and their current value would be even higher. The minutes of the National Gallery of Ireland board meeting of 5 October 2005, when the loan was approved, were first acquired by the Irish edition of The Sunday Times and subsequently by The Art Newspaper.

The gallery papers record that the loan is for “approximately six years”. Under Irish regulations, lending a painting for six years would exempt the owner from Capital Gains Tax, in the event of a future sale.

Last February, after Portrait of Omai went on display, Ireland’s Department of Finance issued a statement extending the minimum period for loans benefiting from this exemption from six to ten years, since the Taxes Consolidation Act of 1997 was being “used inappropriately to generate tax-free money”. The extension is not being applied retrospectively, so it will not affect the Magnier loans.