UK Imposes Export Ban on $2.9 Million Giacometti Sculpture

The rare white plaster work influenced many British sculptors.

UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. Photo: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The British culture minister Ed Vaizey has imposed an export ban on a plaster sculpture by Alberto Giacometti. The UK risks losing the seminal artwork unless a British buyer can be found to match the asking price of £2,083,500 ($2,921,337).

Femme (1928–29) is the only known pure plaster sculpture in the UK by the acclaimed Swiss artist, and is valued for the impact that continental European Modernism had on notable British artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson in the 1930s.

“This Giacometti sculpture is not only a stunning example of his work but it also heavily influenced some [of] our greatest artists,” culture minister Vaizey said in a statement published on the UK government’s website. “It is important that Femme is kept in the country so we can better understand and enjoy this pivotal period in modern British art.”

Vaizey took the decision following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by the Arts Council.

Alberto Giacometti <i>Femme</i> (1928–29). Photo courtesy of the U.K. Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.

Alberto Giacometti Femme (1928–29). Photo courtesy of the U.K. Department for Culture, Media, and Sport.

Under UK law, the government may impose a temporary export ban on nationally significant artworks and cultural objects to allow for more time to find a UK buyer or institution to keep the artwork in the country, or to raise funds to save it for the nation.

RCEWA member Richard Calvocoressi underscored the significance of Giacometti’s Femme. “This is one of Giacometti’s most simplified female figures,” he said. “Flat, almost abstract, its pure white forms pared down to bare essentials. Works such as this had a huge influence on the development of modern sculpture.”

The UK must now find a buyer before the temporary export ban expires on May 24, 2016 to keep the sculpture in the UK. Although the period can be extended to September 24, 2016 if a serious buyer emerges, or advanced negotiations are taking place.

During his time in office Vaizey has not shied away from imposing export bans to keep cultural treasures in the UK, having used the his power to try to save works by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Rembrandt, Pontormo, and Claude Lorrain recently.

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