Nicolas Poussin's epic work at risk of export from UK
A brilliant painting by Nicolas Poussin may join thousands of other outstanding works of art, archaeological artefacts and cultural objects of importance that have departed the British shores over the last year.
The Infant Moses Trampling Pharaoh’s Crown, which was executed by the brilliant French baroque master between 1645 and 1646, is at risk of being exported overseas unless a £14 million offer is made by an individual or institution in the UK.
Appreciating the value of this fantastic work, which has been in the country for over 200 years, culture minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary ban on this work leaving the country, hoping that in the interim, some viable solution can be made.
As the Guardian reported, over 33,000 valuable works of art and objects have been snapped up by foreign buyers, delivering blow after blow to the UK’s long-standing and robust reputation as a vibrant centre of art and culture.
“It would be a terrible shame if this dramatic work by Poussin was to be moved abroad permanently,” Mr Vaizey said. “I hope that a UK buyer can be found and that the painting remains here in the UK where it can be enjoyed by the British public.”
The painting tells the story of the childless daughter of Thermutis who adopts the young Moses to one day succeed the Pharaoh. It specifically shows the infant treading over the Pharaoh’s crown, a stark metaphor of what was to come – he would lead the Israelites to freedom from Egypt.
Mr Vaizey’s decision was, in part, influenced by the counsel of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England.
The RCEWA described Poussin’s The Infant Moses Trampling Pharaoh’s Crown as being of “outstanding aesthetic importance” and equally critical for study of the painter’s work.
“With its frieze-like composition and frozen gestures and expressions, no picture better expresses Poussin’s position as the arch-classicist of seventeenth-century European painting,” explained Aidan Weston-Lewis from the RCEWA. “It is above all in its chilly austerity, reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, that its greatness lies.”
The task at hand is rather difficult with the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones remarking that these days it is very rare for wealthy individuals to step up and save the day – museums and galleries remain our only viable way of saving prominent works.
Nevertheless, this process has a successful track record – despite the exodus as highlighted above – and well-established institutions possess the resources, both in terms of manpower, reach and finances, to make a purchase.
“This is a great work of art that came to Britain at the end of the eighteenth century and belongs not just in this country but in one of our public collections”, remarked Mr Jones. “It’s time for a museum to gear up its publicity machine, call the Art Fund, and launch a campaign.”
The decision to approve the export licence has been deferred until April 22nd 2014, with an option to extend it to October if an individual or organisation can successfully demonstrate that they have a “serious intention to raise funds to purchase the painting”.
Cadogan Tate, experts in fine art shipping, works with museums, galleries and artists to deliver secure art storage solutions.