Goya’s Marquesa de Santa Cruz is back in London. Those with long memories will know that this painting by Spanish artist Francisco Goya had been taken out of Spain in the mid 1980s and brought to auction at Christie’s in London, only to incur the ire of the Spanish government. The work had left Spain in 1983 accompanied by forged export documents. As an obvious national treasure, there was otherwise no way the Marquesa would have been allowed to leave the Iberian Peninsula.
But it did. And what did Spain do? Did it sue the consignor, Lord Wimborne? Did it sue Christie’s and demand the return? No. Such a thing wasn’t possible in those days, seeing as an English court would never agree to enforce the export laws of another country. Courts wouldn’t generally allow country A to come to country B and try to recover an illegally exported item based upon its own export laws (this has now changed regarding cultural objects, at least as between European countries, with the 1993 Council Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State 93/7, now recast as Directive 2014/60, and to a certain extent as a result of the UK’s ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention). Instead, Spain sought a declaratory judgment from the English courts, affirming that the painting had indeed been illegally exported. This it received in 1986. The move effectively ‘ring-fenced’ the work and, for all intents and purposes, made it unsellable. As a result, Lord Wimborne entered into negotiations to sell it to the Spanish State for roughly half the price it was expecting to fetch at auction. The painting went back to Spain and was quickly hung at the Prado Museum.
Now it is in London again. The accompanying photograph, taken a few days ago, is proof positive. The work has been loaned from the Prado to the National Gallery for the current Goya portrait exhibition. It is nice to see the painting back in the UK, this time under less fraught circumstances.
Well done to the National Gallery team for putting together such an exhaustive, loan-heavy show. We should mention that at least one other piece from the exhibition has a ‘legal’ history. Does anyone know which one…?
Photo: The author, The Marquesa de Santa Cruz in London (CC BY-SA-ND-NC)