|By Robert Kyle
LONDON, England — The British government is taking steps to prevent a valuable landscape painting by a 19th century American Hudson River School artist from leaving the United Kingdom by imposing an export ban if its current owner decides to sell.
At the center of the tug of war is Jasper Francis Cropsey’s Richmond Hill, Summer of 1862, one of the works he created while residing London from 1855 to 1862. The British are especially fond of the painting’s panoramic view that overlooks the Thames River southwest of London.
Cropsey painted several versions, as did his contemporaries Joshua Reynolds and J.M.W. Turner. The area of Richmond Hill is the only scenic vista protected by an Act of Parliament, which did so in 1902.
Cropsey, born in Staten Island, N.Y., was an architect turned artist. His landscapes and rural scenes are known for their precise detail, realism and vivid colors. He sold Richmond Hill shortly after completing it and just before returning to the United States. The painting has never left Britain, although there was a close call in 1999.
That year the painting resurfaced when Bonham’s in London offered it in a December auction. It sold for a Cropsey record price – then and now – for just less than $2.2 million. The buyer, Chris Larson, lived in Seattle, Wash.
A wealthy Microsoft executive and co-owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, he and his wife, Julia Calhoun, were actively assembling an international art collection that would eventually number 46 works valued last year at $102 million. Cropsey would literally hang with Renoir, Monet, Bierstadt, Moran and Sargent.
Not so fast, said the Brits. Cropsey was an American, but the work depicted an major London landmark and was created in the UK. British art historians said Richmond Hill reflects their country’s influence on America’s Hudson River School of landscape painting.
Arts Council England intervened, specifically its Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. They denied the winning bidder an export license. Fortunately Larson and his wife owned a home in London and moved the painting there.
Thirteen years later, in 2012, Chris Larson and Julia Calhoun divorced. They divided up their properties, possessions and paintings. Calhoun got the house in London with Richmond Hill on the wall. In court records of the divorce proceedings reported by the Seattle Times, Calhoun told the judge, “It was Chris who wanted the painting in the first place … It’s OK if you like brown.”
Last year, appraisers valued Richmond Hill, Summer of 1862 for $8.5 million. Fearing Calhoun, who does not care for the painting, might consign it to auction to be snapped up by another American buyer, the Reviewing Committee has temporarily banned its export again until April 7.
A Feb. 8 Arts Council England press release said, “One of the last few examples of British landscapes by American painters in a UK collection is at risk of permanently leaving the UK, the second time in recent history it has faced being exported overseas. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar … to provide a last chance to raise the £4.95 million needed to keep the painting in the UK.”
The press release said the ban can be extended to Aug. 7.
The funds needed amount to more than $6.6 million, about $2 million less than the value assessed in the divorce settlement. Not stated is whether the Arts Council plans to buy Richmond Hill if it comes up at auction or will make a direct purchase from Julia Calhoun.
The British became sensitive about losing valuable American art when The Icebergs, completed in 1861 by Frederic Edwin Church, also from the Hudson River School, sold for $2.5 million after it had been consigned to Sotheby’s in New York in 1979 by the city of Manchester. The work had been discovered in a boy’s home, Rose Hill, former residence of the late British railroad owner Sir Edward Watkin. He had purchased the painting directly from the artist.
The Arts Council this year has also banned the export of a 700 year old panel painting, Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter by Italian Pietro Lorenzetti and paintings of a Kangaroo and Dingo from 1772 by George Stubbs of the UK.
Britain demonstrated last year it could raise significant funds to prevent art from leaving its shores even when there’s no connection to the UK.
When the Edouard Manet (French) unfinished Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus sold privately to a foreign buyer by a London art gallery for the equivalent of $44.83 million, the Arts Council moved to block the sale with an export ban. John Singer Sargent (born in Italy to American parents) had found the painting in Manet’s Paris studio following his death in 1883. The Manet has been in the Sargent family until last year.
A reduced price of $12.4 million was raised through public and private donations, and the painting is now displayed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.