£5.3 million Canova masterpiece at risk of being lost to the UK

A rare work by sculptor Antonio Canova could be sold overseas unless a buyer can find more than £5 million to keep it in the UK.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis has put a temporary export bar on the white marble Bust Of Peace in an effort to find a new British home for it.

The bust, one of a handful of original works by the Italian neoclassical artist that remain outside museum collections, was sold to a private buyer at Sotheby’s in July 2018 for £5.3 million, a record price for a Canova.

The work was created between 1814-15 and has been seen to symbolise the peace in Europe after the fall of Napoleon.

Mr Ellis said:  “Canova is widely recognised as one of the greatest sculptors of his, or any, era.

“The Bust Of Peace combines a crucial moment in our history with beauty and elegance, pointing to a more peaceful future ahead.

“Therefore it is essential that we do our best to save this superb item for the benefit of the nation.”

The bust may have been given to John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, in part to thank him for his help in repatriating art looted from Italy by the French armies during the Napoleonic Wars and was on show at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1817.

It remained in Lord Cawdor’s family for five generations at Stackpole Court in Pembrokeshire but was sold in 1962, apparently without anyone being aware of its significance as it was listed without attribution to Canova, and then reappeared at auction in 2012.

The decision to issue a temporary export bar on the piece follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee On The Export Of Works Of Art And Objects Of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.

Committee member Aidan Weston-Lewis said: “This outstanding bust was probably given by Canova as a token of friendship and gratitude to his most loyal British patron and champion, Lord Cawdor.

“Over nearly three decades, Cawdor commissioned several of Canova’s most celebrated works, including the reclining and standing versions of Cupid and Psyche, both now in the Louvre.”

He added: “As a testament to the special relationship between a brilliant and innovative British patron and statesman and the greatest artist of his day, every effort should be made to retain the Bust Of Peace in the UK.”

A decision on the export licence application for the sculpture will be deferred until February 1 2019 and could be extended until July 1 2019 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at £5,303,500 (plus £160,700 VAT).

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