U.K. export ban on historic art angers Australia

AFP-JIJI

The National Gallery of Australia on Thursday blasted Britain’s decision to block the export of historic paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo.

The two oils by British artist George Stubbs are thought to be the first depiction of the animals in Western art. The kangaroo in the painting was the basis for Australia’s earliest coat of arms.

They were first exhibited in London in 1773, giving the public their initial glimpse of the exotic creatures most identified with the wild new territory of Australia.

The National Gallery of Australia had been negotiating to buy them from their private owner, a descendent of the wife of English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who took part in Capt. James Cook’s 1768-1771 maiden voyage to the Pacific, including Australia.

But the British government blocked their export in February to allow a British museum to raise money to purchase the works of “national importance.”

The National Maritime Museum in London on Wednesday said it has now raised £4.5 million ($7.2 million) with the help of charitable and public donations, reportedly enough to match the Australian offer.

The National Gallery of Australia said in a statement, “The result of this export ban forever deprives Australian audiences of permanent access to two of the most historically significant works of art in the story of our nation’s visual heritage.”