UK Government

Department for Culture, Media And Sport: A close shave: last chance to save painting of sheep-shearers from leaving the UK

Press Release   •   Dec 23, 2009 10:19 GMT

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on a painting by Samuel Palmer, The Shearers.  This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom.

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).  The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune; that it is of outstanding aesthetic importance; and that it is of outstanding significance for the study of the work of Samuel Palmer. The Committee awarded a starred rating to the painting, meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country.

Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was an English landscape painter, etcher, printmaker and writer, and a key figure in the Romantic Movement. Between 1826 and 1835 he lived in Shoreham in Kent, where he created visionary and nostalgic works in opposition to the predominant naturalism of the time.  The Shearers, one of Palmer’s largest landscape paintings, is based on scenery around Shoreham. A quintessential representation of the English pastoral tradition, it depicts a group of farm-workers shearing their sheep in a rolling, sunlit English landscape, seen from the interior of a large barn. Rather than attempting a literal representation of agricultural labour, Palmer adopted an allegorical approach to the subject matter.  An atmosphere of tension, conveyed by the upturned scythe in the foreground, may reflect contemporary agricultural unrest and the impact of the Reform Act of 1832.  The painting dates from late in Palmer’s ‘Shoreham’ period when he was beginning to turn away from the purely visionary and adopt a more commercially viable style.

Johnny Van Haeften, Reviewing Committee member, said: “The Shearers is an interesting picture from both an iconographic and a historical point of view.  It is aesthetically outstanding because of its well-constructed composition, powerful figures and incredible light.  If retained in the UK, it will enhance the study of Palmer’s ‘Shoreham’ period, a distinct strand of the stream of Romanticism that ran through Britain in the 19th century.”

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 22 March 2010 inclusive.  This period may be extended until 22 July 2010 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the painting at the recommended price of  £3,800,000 is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270

Notes to Editors

1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk.

2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Frances Wilson, RCEWA Secretary, on 020 7273 8270, email frances.wilson@mla.gov.uk.

3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

4. The details of the painting are:

Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
The Shearers
circa 1833-4
Oil and tempera over black chalk on oak
517 x 711 mm

The Shearers depicts farm-workers shearing their sheep in a rolling, sunlit English landscape, seen from the interior of a large barn. One youth has already largely shorn one sheep while two others strain to control the animals awaiting attention. Three young women are also present, one holding a large bag to collect the newly-cut wool. In the foreground, inside the barn, is a complex still-life assemblage of farm implements including another set of shears, basket, pitchfork, small barrel and bottle of refreshments and a coat and straw hat arranged around or hanging on a large scythe. The hat marks the artist’s presence in the picture as it was one of his symbols of his Shoreham days. Beyond the group of shearers stretches a lush, golden valley framed by arching trees and closed off in the distance by sheltering hills. The lighting is brilliant but autumnal, while the shadows in the barn are a mellow golden-brown.

Contacts

NDS Enquiries
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department
ndsenquiries@coi.gsi.gov.uk