Six-month deadline to prevent Impressionist’s masterpiece leaving the UK
The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has launched a campaign to purchase a painting by the French impressionist Edouard Manet, after the UK has been given six months to stop it leaving the country.
The unfinished 1868 portrait of Mademoiselle Claus depicts a thoughtful woman Suzanne Leenhoff, a close friend of Manet’s wife, sitting on a balcony accompanied by a young violinist named Fanny Claus.
The painting, privately owned by the family of an American artist John Singer Sargent since 1884, was sold for £28.35m to an anonymous foreign buyer. However, the UK government has placed a temporary export bar in hopes of finding a local buyer. The masterpiece, now being displayed for the first time in 29 years, can be purchased by the Ashmolean for a mere £7.83m under a private treaty sale, which disregards the £20.5m tax that would be mandatory if obtained privately.
Although the cost may be slashed by more than 50%, it would still be a struggle to gather the amount to keep hold of the painting. The Ashmolean is on the lookout for public funding bodies, trusts and private individuals who will be willing to save the painting from being taken abroad.
Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean, said: “The painting is available to public bodies approved by the Treasury at 25% of its market value. The £7.83 million, though a substantial sum to be found, is a mere fraction of the picture’s actual worth and it would therefore be an enormous disappointment if it could not be saved for the nation.”
Manet was one of the greatest yet most controversial painters of the 19th century, whose work was hugely admired by other painters. Most of Manet’s paintings can be found in France, whereas the UK only boasts a handful of his works in London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Glasgow.
If the Ashmolean was to claim the new ownership, the museum would become a world-leading centre for the study of Impressionist and Post-impressionist work.
“This is one of the most important pictures of the 19th century which has been in this country since its sale following the artist’s death,” said Brown, before adding: “Its purchase would at a stroke transform the Ashmolean’s representation of Impressionist painting.”