The National Gallery has bought Bernardo Bellotto’s The Fortress of Königstein from the North (1756-58) for £11,670,000. When a UK export license was deferred on the painting it was valued at £11m. The additional £670,000 (6%) paid represents compensation for the fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit referendum.
Last year the Bellotto was sold by the 19th Earl of Derby, in whose family it had been for nearly 200 years. It was acquired by a foreign buyer, possibly from the US, for £11m. An export licence application was deferred in November 2016 to allow a UK buyer to match the price. As The Art Newspaper revealed last April, the National Gallery then began trying to raise the funds.
Although it is very unusual for UK museums to pay more than the export-deferred “matching price”, a gallery spokeswoman says that the sum for the Bellotto includes “some allowance for the fall in the value of sterling since the owner acquired this work”. She adds: “We are satisfied the price we paid represents a fair market price for the work at this time.”
Today the gallery announced that it had raised the money, mostly from its own funds and a £550,000 grant from the Art Fund, along with some private donations. The painting went on show in a small display in Room 40. A gallery spokeswoman describes it as their “first major 18th-century landscape to depict a Northern European view”.
The Bellotto acquisition comes after the gallery was thwarted in buying a £31m export-deferred Pontormo portrait. The US buyer, the banker Tom Hill, refused to accept what the National Gallery offered because the fall in the pound meant that he would have lost out. Hill is therefore required to keep Pontormo’s Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap (1530) in the UK.
The large Bellotto, 2.4m wide, is part of a set of five landscapes of the hill fortress of Königstein, near Dresden. These were commissioned by Augustus III of Poland and were acquired by the 13th Earl of Derby in the early 19th century.
Two of the set is now at Manchester Art Gallery, one is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and one remains in the Earl’s home, Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool, according to London’s National Gallery. Gabriele Finaldi, the gallery’s director, says that the acquisition of The Fortress of Königstein from the North “shows Bellotto as one of the greatest view painters of his time”.