Since the announcement of an export stop on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s great portrait of Omai, Tate and the Art Fund have been working hand in hand to ensure that the painting is acquired for the nation. On the eve of the launch of the public appeal to help raise the £12.5 million required, there has been an exciting new development.
A private patron has expressed a wish to make it possible for Tate to acquire the work. The benefactor has asked to remain anonymous.
Details will be formalised in coming weeks and Tate then expects to be in a position to make a matching offer for the painting in accordance with the export deferral system. If successful, it would result in the painting coming to the Tate in the long term.
Sir David Attenborough, Chairman of the Art Fund’s Centenary Committee of Honour said:
This is an extraordinarily generous offer. For my part, it is not often that I have felt moved to support a public campaign to save a work of art, but the portrait of Omai is exceptional. Reynolds represents the rare moment when two worlds encounter one another for the first time. The painting is a vivid reminder of the way in which art can bridge cultural divides. The news is a wonderful way to mark the Art Fund’s centenary.
Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate said:
This offer matches some of the great benefactions in the history of philanthropy in the arts. We are enormously grateful to this patron for his imagination and support.
Omai is one of the masterpieces of eighteenth-century British art and until recently was part of the Collection at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Considered to be one of Reynolds’s greatest works, it secured a world auction record for the artist when the Howard family sold it at auction in 2001. The acquisition of the painting by Tate would be one of the most important acquisitions in the gallery’s history.
The first Polynesian to visit London, Omai travelled to England as a member of the crew of Captain Cook’s second voyage in 1774 and became an overnight sensation. Immediately upon his arrival, he had an audience with the King and Queen; he regularly went to balls, and operas, and attended the State Opening of Parliament. During this time he indulged in various native British pastimes, including shooting, skating, and picnicking. Held up as a living example of the ‘noble savage’, he was discussed by scientists and philosophers, celebrated in high society and written about in everything from poetry to popular theatre.