Could Royal Geographical Society’s Baines Collection Stay in the UK?

One of Thomas Baines's paintings from the Royal Geographical Society’s collection. Photo: Royal Geographical Society.

The planned sale of the UK’s Royal Geographical Society‘s art collection has attracted considerable controversy. Now, according to the Art Newspaper, the buyer is trying to negotiate for a lower price, potentially opening up the door for interested British museums to snap up the 19th century paintings by Thomas Baines.

The sale has already been granted an export license, and was set to go through for £4.2 million ($7.1 million) raising £3.5 million ($5.9 million) to help to cover the organization’s pension shortfall. According to TAN, the undisclosed prospective buyer is Australian investor and art collector Kerry Stokes. UK buyers initially had until the end of last October to match his offer, but the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, while interested, was not able to raise the necessary funds.

Now there may a second chance to keep the collection in the country, as the sale has hit a snag while Stokes attempts to renegotiate—an unusual turn of events once an export license is in hand. If the price changes, the export license would have to be granted anew, giving the Maritime Museum and other interested British parties a chance to reenter the fray.

Baines executed the collection’s 21 paintings, 300 drawings and watercolors, and 9 panoramas during a British expedition to northern Australia between 1855–57. Also included in the collection, which the British Colonial Office donated to the society in 1857, is an expedition map by the artist. Should the sale got through, the society might lose its Arts Council England-conferred status of having a nationally significant “designated” collection.

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