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Export bar on 18th century portrait of Prince William at risk of leaving UK

The 18th century portrait of Prince William by Benjamin West. Photo: UK government

London, Dec 19 (MNN) A temporary export bar has been put on portrait of future King William IV that is worth over 300,000 pounds, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said on Friday.

Valued at 314,880 pounds, Portrait of Prince William by Benjamin West is at risk of leaving the country unless a UK buyer can be found, the Arts Council England said.

This rare portrait of a young Prince William, the third son of George III, who was destined to become the ‘sailor king’ William IV, shows him wearing his midshipman’s uniform on the quarterdeck of the Prince George during the American Revolutionary War.

American painter, Benjamin West, who created the portrait, was appointed historical painter to George III from 1772, and this is among the most original of his works.

Commissioned by his father, the Portrait of Prince William is one of the very few accurately to depict an eighteenth-century midshipman.

It also shows how the royal family used portraiture during the American Revolutionary War as propaganda, aiming to present the Prince as an ordinary midshipman, working his way up the ranks without “parade” or “marks of distinction”.

The aim was to reinforce King George’s simple, moralistic public image and show the royal family living a respectable family life.

Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “This rare painting from the late eighteenth century gives us an insight into how the Hanoverian Royal Family wanted to be seen: as humble figures working their way up the naval ranks in the same way as anyone else.

“I hope this fascinating portrait, which teaches us about our royal and naval history, is saved for the nation so it can be appreciated for generations to come.”

The Minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).

The Committee agreed that this painting is not only significant for its connection to royal propaganda during the American war, but also for its relation to the cult of sensibility during the 1780s.

Committee Member Professor Mark Hallett said: “This is a highly original and visually striking portrait of a royal prince by one of the leading painters working in Georgian Britain.

“Showing the future King William IV standing alone on the deck of a warship, dressed in his midshipman’s uniform, looking steadfastly out to sea and resting his hand on a sword, the portrait highlights both his youth and bravery.

“The work’s significance lies not only in its exceptional quality and interest as a painting; the portrait also provided the basis for a widely disseminated engraving that served to promote the modest, heroic virtues of the prince and his family at a time of profound national crisis. For all these reasons, this is a painting of great historical and art-historical importance.”

The Committee made its recommendation on the grounds that the portrait’s departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it is so closely connected with our history and national life and it is of outstanding significance for the study of naval portraiture in Britain.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until March 16, 2022. At the end of the first deferral period owners will have a consideration period of 15 business days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the painting at the recommended price of 314,880 pounds (inclusive of VAT).

The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for three months.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered.

Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

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