A damning government report has highlighted the way in which our cultural heritage is being sold off to foreign buyers. The Waverley Criteria are designed to keep important artworks in the UK. But of the 14 objects temporarily banned from export in 2010 – 2011, just four stayed in UK public collections, including a William IV antique cabinet, and a William Burges Zodiac Settle.
Of extreme historical and artistic importance, the latter will interest all fans of Aesthetic arts & crafts furniture – although Lancashire residents will have to travel to Bedford. Closer to home is the Thomas Wentworth silver wine cistern, which was purchased by Leeds Museums and Galleries for £2.1m. The Ashmolean Museum gained a lacquered Imari porcelain garniture for £109,250, while the aforementioned William Beckford antique cabinet-on-stand was purchased for £285,000 by the Beckford Tower Trust, its original home.
Together, these four items have a value of £3.8m – but it must be stressed that this represents just 5% of the total value of deferred objects, seven of which were released for export when British buyers were unable to match the offers made by bidders from outside the UK. They included a JMW Turner painting, “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino”, which realised £26.5m at Sotheby’s, but was eventually sold to an American buyer. Other pieces remained in Britain, but in private collections.
In Cumbria, antique balloon back dining chairs and Victorian mahogany pedestal desks are unlikely to satisfy the Waverley Criteria. However, they are every bit as important to our cultural history as the Zodiac Settle. Selling your heirlooms to an antique dealer in the Ribble Valley is far preferable to them being auctioned off abroad.
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