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Art lover claims c1.25 million Old Master should not have left country

Private collector vs State in Spain

Madrid

A harvesting scene by Joos de Momper and Jan Breughel the Elder which sold for the second highest price of the year at auction in Spain last year is now the subject of a legal wrangle initiated by a private collector against the Spanish State.

The previously unpublished “Summer landscape with figures on a pathway between harvesters” was sold in Madrid by Alcalá Subastas on 9 October 2002 for a hammer price of c1.25 million.

The painting was granted a provisional export licence before the sale. This was confirmed after the sale following a meeting of Spain’s Export Licensing Committee which largely based its decision on a report on the painting written by committee member Alejandro Vergara, curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting at the Prado Museum.

The painting has already left Spain and is now with Richard Green in London, priced at $5.5 million. However, a Spanish citizen is protesting the decision to allow the work to leave the country. Art collector Jesús Fortea, a professor at Madrid’s leading university, is exercising his right to appeal the decision to allow the painting out of the country, enshrined within Spain’s National Heritage Law. Mr Fortea argues that the export licensing committee was not validated to make its decision because the painting had not been previously entered in one of the two heritage lists in which all works of art over a certain age and value must appear by law. In addition, Mr Fortea has taken issue with the content of the report written by Alejandro Vergara of the Prado Museum. In it, Mr Vergara acknowledged that the painting is of “great importance, both for its quality and its large size as well as its fine state of conservation.”. However, he noted that if it were acquired by the Prado it would “be destined for the museum’s storerooms.” Mr Fortea has questioned the quality and competence of Mr Vergara’s report and has asked that the export licence be revoked.

There is no exact precedent for such a case in Spain. Ironically, Mr Fortea has received some official support for his crusade but the matter remains entirely dependent on his own efforts and at his own expense.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Private collector vs State in Spain'