Getty-UK Joint Purchase of "Omai" Nixed
|Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Omai, 1776. Collection of John Magnier|
Mai, as he was properly known, was a Tahitian who sailed to Britain with Captain Cook and became a celebrity of the Georgian era. The painting is one of Reynolds' few portraits of a person of color. The pose, after the Apollo Belvedere, shows the subject's tattooed hands. A group of historians called Omai "perhaps the greatest work of Britain's greatest portraitist and the first-ever grand portrait of a non-white subject."
The portrait is owned by Irish billionaire John Magnier, who has been trying to secure an export license for some time. He rejected a purchase offer of £12.5 million from the Tate Gallery. A new application for export is pending, and the National Portrait Gallery is trying to raise £50 million by March 10, 2023, to block export. Only about half the funds have been raised, and this motivated discussions with the Getty. The Getty doesn't usually comment on potential acquisitions but confirmed the NPG's statement.
In the past, "saving" an artwork for the British nation often meant thwarting a Getty purchase. In this case the NPG was willing to share display. The National Memorial Heritage Fund was not, maintaining that works bought with its funding should remain permanently on British soil. As the lead potential donor, the fund's support is crucial.
Should NPG fail to raise the funds, Omai could be sold on the international market—conceivably to the Getty, speculates the Financial Times.
More on Omai at Bendor Grosvenor's Art History News.