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Prince of Liechtenstein cancels Royal Academy show

Ruler angry over block on Coello masterpiece

Hans-Adam II, the Prince of Liechtenstein, has cancelled an exhibition of art treasures at the Royal Academy scheduled for this year, because one of his paintings was impounded in Britain as a result of an HM Revenue & Customs investigation. The work, Portrait of Don Diego, Son of Philip II of Spain, 1577, by Alonso Sánchez Coello, was seized over an export licence dispute more than two years ago.

In a statement issued by the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna on 16 December, it was announced “with regret” that the exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA) “will now not take place”. It had been scheduled from 25 September to 12 December 2010.

“The Prince does not think it appropriate to proceed with the planned exhibition until the matter of a painting by Sánchez Coello is resolved,” explained Johann Kräftner, director of the Liechtenstein Museum.

Charles Saumarez Smith, RA chief executive, told us that he “deeply regrets the cancellation of the Liechtenstein exhibition”. He warned that the move would also “jeopardise international relations with Liechtenstein”.

News of the impending crisis was exclusively revealed in the December issue of The Art Newspaper. Even when the legal issues are eventually resolved, the export licence for the Coello is likely to be deferred to allow a UK buyer to match the price.

The National Gallery is keen to acquire the Coello and is reasonably confident that it can raise the funds. In a surprise move last month, the prince offered to sell the painting to the National Gallery. The price under discussion was around £2m.

However, the Coello painting forms part of the Revenue & Customs investigation. The Treasury, responsible for Revenue & Customs, told the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that a sale of the picture would complicate the legal situation. The National Gallery is therefore unable to proceed.

Saumarez Smith told us that he “found it odd that the Coello should have been released from the custody of the National Gallery, but has not been allowed to be sold to it, thereby leading to the cancellation of our exhibition”.

The RA now has the problem of finding an exhibition to replace the Liechtenstein treasures. An announcement is expected early this year.