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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


It’s Australia v England, in battle over Stubbs masterpieces

By Jack Ashby, on 8 November 2013

In September I wrote a post about two paintings by George Stubbs – of a kangaroo and a dingo – which had been placed under an export bar to allow time for the National Maritime Museum to raise funds to save them for the nation. This was because they had been sold to an oversees buyer.

This week we learned that the campaign was successful. Had it not been, the paintings would have been bought by the National Gallery of Australia. They are understandably disappointed. I was asked by The Conversation (“an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community”) to update my article for them, covering the Australian case for their acquisition.

Published yesterday, the article began:

Not for the first time Britain and Australia are at loggerheads over cultural heritage. At issue this time are two images of genuine historical significance to both countries: Kongouro from New Holland and Portrait of a Large Dog were painted by George Stubbs, one of Britain’s foremost painters of animals, on instruction from Captain Cook’s legendary botanist Joseph Banks. They were painted in England, exhibited in London in 1773 and have never left the country.

The paintings are the first examples of two iconic Australian animals in western art – so obviously Australia has been very keen to acquire them – to “bring them home”.

The pair were in private hands until last year when they were put up for sale and the National Gallery of Australia had agreed to buy them. But the UK government placed an export bar on them to allow the National Maritime Museum time to bid for them – and this week a £1.5m donation from shipping magnate Eyal Ofer enabled the Museum to complete the purchase, leading to genuine disappointment from Australia.

Please read the rest of the article on The Conversation. I explain the case for the UK and the case for Australia, and why I am pleased that the paintings are staying here in the UK.

Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.

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