Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Omai To Star In Rijksmuseum High Society Exhibition

Sir Joshua Reynolds Omai

The DCMS has granted a temporary UK export licence for Sir Joshua Reynolds painting of Omai to travel to Amsterdam to be exhibited in the highly anticipated ‘High Society’ exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. The show explores full-length portraiture and opens on 8 March.

The painting has been on display at the National Gallery of Ireland for more than five years

The Reynolds has been on a rollercoaster ride of red tape after it was purchased in October 2001, at Sotheby’s, by an Irish collector and denied a licence to leave the country. The painting was valued at £12.5 million at the time.

Sir Joshua Reynolds Omai
Sir Joshua Reynolds Omai

The application for the Sir Joshua Reynolds was reviewed by Committee in December 2002, which found Omai to possess all of the ‘Waverley’ criteria to be a national treasure. A recommendation for a deferral period of three months for expressions of interest followed, while a further six month deferral to raise funds, was accepted by the then Secretary of State.

Nicholas Serota Director of Tate was eager to acquire the Sir Joshua Reynolds work for the Museum. He expressed a serious intention to buy the painting at the end of the first deferral period in September 2003. The Tate secured funding from an anonymous private donor and made an offer to purchase the painting at the fair matching price of £12.5 million as determined by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the Committee. The owner did not accept this offer, even though it was £2m higher than the auction price realised.

Subsequently, the owner made an application for a temporary export licence to export the painting to Ireland to display at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI). This application requested that the licence should be for six and a half years. The licence was granted and, following a short extension of four months, the painting has now been returned to the UK at the end of the agreed period.

The painting was on display at the National Gallery of Ireland for more than five years and has only just returned to the UK.

Former Culture Minister Ed Vaizey acted on the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA), who recommended that permission be refused as the artwork had been identified as a national treasure and has already been out of the country on a temporary licence for a long period.

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.

“Sir 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 the repeated use of temporary licences, so I have refused to grant a second licence on this occasion.”

The Government had been concerned for some time about the potential for the long-term use of temporary licences to undermine the export control system. DCMS is currently consulting on proposed changes to the scheme which would see temporary export licences for national treasures only be granted for a maximum of three years, with no extension.

Rembrandt’s Spectacular Wedding Portraits To Be Unveiled after Restoration in Rijksmuseum
Rembrandt’s Spectacular Wedding Portraits To Be Unveiled after Restoration

‘High Society’ Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

From 8 March to 3 June 2018, the Dutch national museum, the Rijksmuseum, will present High Society, with over 35 life-size portraits of powerful princes, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy citizens by the great masters of art history, including Cranach, Veronese, Velázquez, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Sargent, Munch and Manet.

The centrepiece will be Rembrandt’s spectacular wedding portraits, Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit which will be shown for the first time following their restoration. Never before has there been an exhibition dedicated to this most glamorous type of portrait: life-size, standing and full length. Loans have come from museums and private collections from all over the world including Paris, London, Florence, Vienna and Los Angeles.

The works span from the early 16th to the start of the 20th century. Masterpieces include the impressive portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony, and Catharina, Countess of Mecklenburg by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1514), the married couple Iseppo da Porto and Livia da Porto Thiene with their children by Veronese (1555), Don Pedro de Barberana y Aparregui by Velázquez (ca. 1631-33), Portrait Jane Fleming by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1778/79), The Artist by Edouard Manet (1875) and Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt (1634).

​Most of the subjects portrayed are lavishly dressed, giving the exhibition an overview of four centuries of fashion: from the tightly cut trousers and doublet from 1514 to the haute couture of the late 19th century. Some of the subjects portrayed wear fancy garments in an antique style. Another is wearing a kilt, yet another is not wearing trousers, and one is almost completely naked. Remarkably, those portrayed often have dogs with them. One man is accompanied by a lion. One couple has their children with them. The backgrounds can be richly decorated interiors, often with columns and curtains, or a summer or winter landscape. One man is standing in front of an imaginary landscape with palm trees, while another is adopting a flamboyant pose in front of the Colosseum in Rome.

High Society celebrates the acquisition of Rembrandt’s spectacular wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum) and France (Musée du Louvre) in 2016 from a private collection. The wedding couple is the only couple that Rembrandt ever painted life-size, standing and full length (1634). The paintings are on display in the exhibition for the first time since their restoration – completed at the beginning of 2018. The High Society exhibition is the overture to the Year of Rembrandt in 2019, during which the 350th anniversary of the death of the artist will be extensively celebrated.

Concurrent to the High Society exhibition, a complementary exhibition, Guilty Pleasures, can be seen in the adjacent galleries. Whereas the glamorous portraits are displaying high society at its best, more than 80 prints and drawings from the Rijksmuseum collection permit a subtle glimpse into the world behind closed doors: parties, drinking, gambling and secret visits to brothels and boudoirs.

Watch For Our Review of ‘High Society’ By Paul Carter Robinson In March

High Society 35 life-size portraits from Cranach, Velázquez, Rembrandt to Manet 8 March – 3 June 2018 / Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam