"Omai" Update

Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Omai. a South Sea Islander who Travelled to England with the Second Expedition of Captain Cook, about 1776

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey has an update on the National Portrait Gallery's ongoing attempt to buy Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Omai for a record £50 million. The L.A. connection is that the NPG has had talks with the Getty Museum about a possible joint purchase.

It appears that U.K. benefactors have balked at the unprecedented price for a Reynolds, about $60 million. Bailey says a joint NPG-Getty purchase would probably mean the institutions keeping the painting for five years each in rotation. NPG conservators have determined that the painting is "safe for it to be periodically sent by air to Los Angeles." Risk assessments can be subjective, however. The Huntington controversially lent Gainsborough's Blue Boy (a painting of similar size, medium, and age) to the National Gallery, London, in 2022. A panel of consulting experts, including former Getty conservator Mark Leonard, "strongly" opposed that loan as unacceptably risky. 

More background here.

Further UPDATE (Mar. 10): The National Portrait Gallery, London, says it will make an announcement on Omai's fate Monday. Export hold expired today, and British media are still speculating about a joint purchase with the Getty.


I wonder what progress the UK has made in raising the required £50 million for this picture. I understand that next month is their deadline to make payment, or lose it.
I expect that they will be short, given the outgrowth of Brexit. The country has dropped in the line of Europe's largest economies, to 4th place, behind Italy.
Great Britain is fast becoming little England.
Score for Getty, although I believe they will have grossly overpaid.
Anonymous said…
London is still easily the cultural and economic hub of Europe. So any museum based there automatically is in the symbolic driver's seat. But something about that Reynolds has a "hmm, oh-kay" quality to me. Or a bit of mixed emotions. It's the kind of reaction I'll likely have towards a wide variety of works in the Lucas museum.

Given the cultural-political trends evident in various institutions in London (elsewhere too---isn't another Reynolds in Britain's main city a sign of not being diverse, equitable and inclusive enough?), and the fact the UK for generations has already grabbed - if not ripped off - artworks from throughout the world, I'd say the NPG should focus on other things.

Anonymous said…
Don’t do it, Getty. Even at $30M, much less $60M, it’s an obscene amount for a Joshua Reynolds. The Getty has paid less for artwork that have elevated its collection more that this will. The appraiser has got to be out of his mind to price it that much. So he’s evaluating this painting to be equal to Manet’s Spring? Or maybe they’re padding the price to get it past the National Heritage fund. Good move on the billionaire’s part. A better move is for the Getty to wait for it to go to auction and buy it completely at a bigger discount, because I can’t see it going for even $30M.
The March 2023 issue of The Burlington Magazine is out, with an editorial on "Omai" and its recent tortuous history...

There is a write-up today in The Guardian about the UK's effort to save "Omar" from its California fate.
The writer is Simon Sebag Montefiore, a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.
He doesn't skimp on the bloviation.