UK Government

Department for Culture, Media And Sport (National): Export blocks save cultural treasures for UK museums and libraries

Press Release   •   Dec 17, 2009 10:52 GMT

Vintage dresses, a naval explorer’s journal, a rare musical manuscript and a regulator clock are some of the outstanding cultural objects which have recently been saved for the nation instead of being exported abroad.

Published today, the 55th annual report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest reveals that items worth just over £1.5 million have been saved from export and will remain in the UK. Following recommendations from the Reviewing Committee, which is serviced by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the Culture Minister placed temporary export bars on 25 objects of outstanding significance during the period 1 May 2008 to 30 April 2009. This gave museums, galleries and libraries in the UK time to raise the necessary funds to purchase them.  The objects represent a wide range of fields, including fine and decorative art, manuscripts, archaeology, fashion, music, and science.

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, said:

“The Reviewing Committee process provides the last chance to save these important pieces of our cultural heritage for the public to enjoy and learn from. Some, such as the Nollekens bust of Charles Townley and the Celtic bronze mirror, are now back in regional localities with which they have a strong association.”

Andrew Motion, Chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council said:

“I am delighted that these objects of historical, artistic and scholarly significance have been saved for the benefit of the UK public. The extraordinary range of the objects, from sculptures to dresses to scientific instruments, gives them wide-ranging appeal.”

The many items that have been acquired by institutions in the UK include two which had received a “starred” rating by the Committee to denote that every effort should be made to retain them. They are:

  • A manuscript journal and charts of the 17th-century English naval explorer Sir John Narbrough, purchased by the British Library for £310,000 (starred);
  • A bust of the English art collector Charles Townley by Joseph Nollekens, purchased by Townley Hall Museum and Art Gallery for £308,750 (starred);
  • Nine dresses designed by the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet, purchased by the V&A, the Bowes Museum and the Fashion Museum, Bath, for £351,399;
  • A regulator clock made by the English railway engineer and horologist William Shortt Hamilton, purchased by National Museums Liverpool for £72,217;
  • A rare manuscript of Leon Cavalli’s opera Erismena in English translation, purchased by the Bodleian Library for £85,000;
  • A pair of Queen Anne giltwood stools, purchased by the V&A for £337,250;
  • A Celtic bronze mirror and two fibulae from an archaeological site in Kent, purchased by Canterbury City Council for the Museum of Canterbury for £35,000;
  • A Romano-British statuette of a horse and rider, purchased by the British Museum for £22,066.81.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers and the Reviewing Committee were pleased to note significant grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, and the MLA/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, as well as many generous charitable and private donations which made many of these purchases possible.

Notes to Editors

1. Copies of the report are available on the DCMS website:

2. Media enquiries on the operation and casework arising from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest and the export licencing system should go to Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email:

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 Committee’s annual report was published today, together with the fifth annual report to Parliament by the Culture Secretary on the operation of the export controls on objects of cultural interest.  A copy of the report can be downloaded from

5. Matching funds could not be raised for some of the items found to be of outstanding significance: a painting by Turner, a pastel by Rosalba Carriera, two statues by Cipriani, a George I chandelier, an Insular animal mount, the Courtenay Compendium, two dresses designed by Madeleine Vionnet and an Insignia of the Order of the Lion and the Sun.

6. The MLA is government's agency for museums, libraries and archives. Leading strategically, we promote best practice to inspire innovative, integrated and sustainable services for all.


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