NEWS
03/07/2012 07:54 BST | Updated 02/09/2012 06:12 BST

Joshua Reynolds' 'Portrait Of Omai' To Stay in UK After Ed Vaizey Intervention

A masterpiece by Sir Joshua Reynolds will stay in the country after the Government refused to grant a temporary export licence.

The full-length Portrait Of Omai has been on display at the National Gallery of Ireland for more than five years on a temporary licence, but is now back in the UK.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: "The temporary export licence system is an excellent way to allow works of significant national importance to travel overseas where they may be enjoyed by audiences around the world before returning to the UK.

Joshua Reynolds 'Portrait of Omai' being moved before hanging at the Tate Britain, London

"Joshua Reynolds' Omai is an outstanding work of art which has already spent more than five years overseas and I do not want to see the regime being undermined by repeated use of temporary licences, so I have refused to grant a second licence on this occasion."

The latest chapter in the painting's history began when the trustees of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire put it on sale in 2001, and the Tate bid £5.5 million.

It went to auction, where it was bought by a London dealer for £10.3 million. Six months later it was sold to an unidentified buyer for £11.6 million.

After the new owner applied for an export licence, the then arts minister Baroness Blackstone slapped a temporary ban on the work going abroad to see if the Tate could come up with the market price.

A benefactor helped the Tate raise the money, but the owner refused to sell and applied for a temporary licence to export the painting to Ireland which was granted.

The painting, which stayed in Sir Joshua's collection until his death, was first exhibited in 1776 at the Royal Academy.

Its subject, Omai, was a Polynesian who arrived in England in 1774 and went on to charm the cream of 18th-century London society.

Sir Joshua's portrait caused a stir because he had painted a non-white in the same manner as a classical aristocrat.

Mr Vaizey made today's decision after the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA) recommended refusal as the artwork has been identified as a national treasure and has already been out of the country on a temporary licence for a long period of time.

The Government is looking at plans to limit temporary export licences for national treasures to three years.