The Prince of Liechtenstein is making another attempt to take his Coello portrait from the UK to Austria

Will the third time be lucky?



The Prince of Liechtenstein has launched a fresh attempt to export Alonso Sánchez Coello’s Portrait of Don Diego, Son of Philip II of Spain, 1577, from the UK. Prince Hans-Adam II wanted to send the painting to his Vienna museum seven years ago but has been thwarted by a series of obstacles.

The prince bought the work in 2006 from the collection of Lord Northbrook, in a £2m sale arranged by the London dealer Simon Dickinson. An export ­licence application was then made. After a report by The Art Newspaper, HM Revenue & Customs launched an investigation into the export of nine works worth a total of more than £17m (Decem­ber 2006, p23; October 2007, p63). The prince was in no way implicated in any potential export irregularities.

The portrait was seized by the UK authorities, but in 2010 the investigation was dropped. The UK export procedure then resumed, and a licence was deferred to allow a UK buyer to match the £2m price. The National Gallery made an offer, but the prince refused to sell, arguing that the Swiss franc (his currency) had fallen, meaning that what he had paid had become the equivalent of £2.5m. The National Gallery could not make an offer at what it regarded as more than the work’s market value. An export licence was refused and the prince had to keep his work in the UK.

A new licence application has now been submitted. This has been considered by the Export Reviewing Committee, which has referred the question of valuation to the culture secretary, Maria Miller. The Swiss franc has fallen further, so what the prince paid is now the equivalent of £2.9m.

A spokeswoman for the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna says: “If the prince is forced to sell the Coello to a UK institution, then he would do so, but only at a price that reflects its current value.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Third time export lucky?'