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Will Reynolds’ Archers stay in the UK? A look at Tate's fundraising efforts and the effects of the Waverley Criteria

Tate needs over £2 million to buy the £3.2m painting from an overseas buyer

The Tate’s deadline for raising £3.2m for Reynolds The Archers is 26 July. The National Art Collections Fund has offered £400,000 and Tate Members have pledged £500,000, but it now all depends on the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was due to make a decision on a £2m-plus grant application on 28 June.

How the export process works

In the new era of openness ushered in by the Freedom of Information Act, the Export Reviewing Committee is publishing its proceedings on the website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This provides a fascinating insight into the way in which dealers and agents have to “talk down” works of art. They have to stress a work of art’s lack of importance under the three Waverley Criteria in order to try to obtain an export licence.

Angela Nevill, of Nevill Keating, addressed the committee earlier this year on The Archers, as an agent for the seller, who is believed to have sold it to a European institution. She began by pointing out that the sitters (Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney) are “not household names”. She then added: “It is understandable to find The Archers aesthetically important. However, it must be said that there are many Reynolds paintings in this country which would qualify as more outstandingly aesthetically important.” She concluded that The Archers had “little significance in Reynolds’ day.”

All this came from the agent who had successfully sold the picture to its new foreign owner for £3.2m—presumably giving a very different interpretation.

Despite her comments, the Export Reviewing Committee decided that the painting fell under the Waverley Criteria and an export licence should be deferred. The work is currently on view in the Tate’s Reynolds exhibition (until 18 September).

Meanwhile, the Tate is still making efforts to acquire the recently-discovered William Blake watercolour illustrations for Robert Blair’s poem The grave. These were valued at £8.8m, a daunting sum, particularly for works on paper (where conservation factors restrict display). The deadline for the initial export licence deferral expired on 30 May, but has been deferred until 30 September. The Art Newspaper’s inquiries suggest that the owner may well be Swiss, with the purchase being made through a family trust registered in the British Virgin Islands.