United Kingdom prevents its historical treasures from being exported abroad

Vintage dresses, a naval explorer’s journal, a rare musical manuscript and a regulator clock are some of the outstanding cultural objects which have recently been saved by the British Government instead of being exported abroad.

Published today, the 55th annual report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest reveals that items worth just over £1.5 million have been saved from export and will remain in the UK. Following recommendations from the Reviewing Committee, which is serviced by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the Culture Minister placed temporary export bars on 25 objects of outstanding significance during the period 1 May 2008 to 30 April 2009. This gave museums, galleries and libraries in the UK time to raise the necessary funds to purchase them. The objects represent a wide range of fields, including fine and decorative art, manuscripts, archaeology, fashion, music, and science.

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, said, “The Reviewing Committee process provides the last chance to save these important pieces of our cultural heritage for the public to enjoy and learn from. Some, such as the Nollekens bust of Charles Townley and the Celtic bronze mirror, are now back in regional localities with which they have a strong association.”

Andrew Motion, Chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council added “I am delighted that these objects of historical, artistic and scholarly significance have been saved for the benefit of the UK public. The extraordinary range of the objects, from sculptures to dresses to scientific instruments, gives them wide-ranging appeal.”

The many items that have been acquired by institutions in the UK include two which had received a “starred” rating by the Committee to denote that every effort should be made to retain them. They are:

  • A manuscript journal and charts of the 17th-century English naval explorer Sir John Narbrough, purchased by the British Library for £310,000 (starred);
  • A bust of the English art collector Charles Townley by Joseph Nollekens, purchased by Townley Hall Museum and Art Gallery for £308,750 (starred);
  • Nine dresses designed by the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet, purchased by the VandA, the Bowes Museum and the Fashion Museum, Bath, for £351,399;
  • A regulator clock made by the English railway engineer and horologist William Shortt Hamilton, purchased by National Museums Liverpool for £72,217;
  • A rare manuscript of Leon Cavalli’s opera Erismena in English translation, purchased by the Bodleian Library for £85,000;
  • A pair of Queen Anne giltwood stools, purchased by the VandA for £337,250;
  • A Celtic bronze mirror and two fibulae from an archaeological site in Kent, purchased by Canterbury City Council for the Museum of Canterbury for £35,000;
  • A Romano-British statuette of a horse and rider, purchased by the British Museum for £22,066.81.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers and the Reviewing Committee were pleased to note significant grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, and the MLA/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, as well as many generous charitable and private donations which made many of these purchases possible.

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