The National Portrait Gallery is attempting to raise £50m to acquire an oil painting and include it in the UK’s national collection.
Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art, is working with the gallery to acquire ‘Portrait of Omai’ by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The charity said the painting is regarded as the “finest portrait by one of Britain’s greatest artists”, and “holds a pivotal place in global art history”.
The work – a full-length, life-size painting from the 18th century which depicts one of the earliest Polynesian visitors to England, who arrived in England with Captain Cook in 1774 – has always been in private ownership, and has not been on public display in the UK since 2005.
Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay has extended the export bar on the painting until 10 June 2023. It is the second extension of the bar, which was first extended for a year on 11 March 2022.
The National Portrait Gallery and Art Fund are together working to raise £50m needed to acquire the painting into public ownership. Art Fund has given an exceptional grant of £2.5m – the largest in its history – and The National Heritage Memorial Fund has pledged £10m, one of its most significant pledges of support.
Additional donations from trusts, foundations and individuals, and Art Fund members have collectively raised almost half the £50m needed to acquire the work.
If the acquisition is successful, the painting will be unveiled to the public at the National Portrait Gallery’s reopening in June 2023.
Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “It is wonderful that there is so much support for securing the Portrait of Omai. Having had the chance to set eyes on this remarkable painting, I’m all the more determined to ensure that we can save it for public display so that the widest possible audience can see, enjoy, and learn from it.”
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, National Portrait Gallery’s Director, said: “This acquisition is one of the most significant our nation could ever make, and will be remembered, and enjoyed, for generations.”
Jenny Waldman, director at Art Fund, added: “We call on those who can help, to come together with us now, so that everyone will have a chance to see this work in future.”