Hanging an Impressionist piece of art on the wall is an excellent way of bringing attention to a Victorian oak pedestal desk . However, a portrait being acquired by the Ashmolean Museum deserves a room to itself, as it is worth almost £7m.
The painting, Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, is by French Impressionist Édouard Manet. The wistful young woman depicted is Fanny Claus, a violinist who died tragically young just a few months later from tuberculosis. The painting might never have been brought to the public eye at all had it not been for a £5.9m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Ashmolean now has until the 7th August to raise the remaining £908,000 needed to buy the painting.
The Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus was purchased by artist John Singer Sargent from a studio sale, following Manet’s death in 1883. Apart from one appearance at a public exhibition, it remained in private collections until it turned up last year at an auction, where it was sold to an overseas buyer for over £28m. The story might have ended there but for a temporary government export ban, which gave a British museum time to raise the necessary £7.83m purchase price. The sum reflects the fact a tax break was included, as the painting is to be incorporated into a national collection.
In areas like the Ribble Valley, antique mahogany pedestal desks can similarly remain in private ownership, generally through inheritance. Visit an antique dealer in Preston, and you’ll find antique desks in abundance – plus original artworks to hang over them.
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