THE BLOG

The Flight of the Dove Must Not Mask the Plight of Our Landmarks

20/03/2013 17:55 GMT | Updated 20/05/2013 10:12 BST

So it looks like the Child With a Dove, Picasso's moving image of a small child clutching a bird, subject of a thousand postcards, is to go. The stay of execution afforded by an export stop has ended, no public campaign has raised the £50m needed to see off its departure. "A catastrophic loss", says Alan Yentob.

"A much-loved painting whose iconic status together with its long history in British collections ... make it of outstanding importance to our national heritage", the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest were told. But the public outcry they hoped might somehow prompt a rescue mission could not save it.

What a tragedy. Or is it? What, exactly, is to be 'lost'? The painting is not actually to be destroyed (though you might be forgiven for thinking so) and is not, nor has ever been, in physical jeopardy. It may leave Britain. That's it. It is and has always been the private property of an individual, it has never belonged to a public gallery let alone 'the nation', and - if the rumours are true - looks quite likely to remain on public display in a major city.

The picture is a masterpiece painted by a genius, undoubtedly, but the artist was Spanish, the subject painted in Paris, and the painting only came to Britain, over twenty years after its completion, because one Mrs Workman bought it here for her own pleasure. Where was the export ban then?

To use the language of destruction to talk of the sale from one private owner to another of a priceless and immaculately cared-for European painting is, to say the least, peculiar. There are, in fact, all around us elements of our national heritage that genuinely do face outright destruction and for which the price of salvation is a fraction of sale price of these celebrity works of art - and yet we hear little of them.

Just outside Wigan is an Elizabethan country house where you crunch the smashed plaster ceiling underfoot as you walk across the floor of the great hall. Forty-five minutes' drive from Cardiff is a 15th-century monastic manor house where the water from the hillside pours in one end and out the other like a river.

These are just two of hundreds of desperate cases which the Landmark Trust, a historic buildings charity that rescues buildings and turns them into places any of us can take for a holiday, has been asked to look at over the last six months.

As I write we are trying to raise £1.8m to stabilise and restore the house in Lyme Regis owned and embellished by the most important woman in British architectural history before the 20th century. 'Who was she?' You might be asking. The fact that so few of us know her name - Eleanor Coade - and that her house needs restoration is something that should worry us far more than that men with white gloves and packing cases might soon be taking the Child with a Dove to a new air-conditioned gallery.