Fire-sale of Royal Geographical Society Paintings

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

When London’s Royal Geographical Society announced that it was selling a collection of historically important paintings by Thomas Baines to meet its pension obligations, it already provoked considerable outcry in the UK. The fact that the RGS  has now knocked 35 percent off the sale price in order to seal the deal is only likely to further inflame tempers.

The asking price for the collection will now be £2.75 million ($4.56 million), down from the originally announced £4.2 million ($6.96 million), reports the Art Newspaper. According to a spokesperson who spoke with TAN, the reduction in price arose from “currency fluctuations between sterling and the Australian dollar, the general softening of the Australian art market during 2013, and the buyer’s own changed circumstances.”

The collection includes some 21 paintings and close to 300 watercolors created from 1855–1857. They are some of the oldest depictions of Australia made by a Westerner still in existence. The collection also includes an expedition map created by the artist.

As artnet News previously reported, the sale is intended to raise £3.5 million ($5.9 million) in order to help close a gap in the organization’s pension fund (“Could Royal Geographical Society’s Baines Collection Stay in the UK?“). It’s unclear how the reduction in price will affect that fund’s long-term viability. 

Australian investor and art collector Kerry Stokes is reportedly the undisclosed buyer who negotiated the reduction in price. He had already been granted an export license for the works at the £4.2 million price tag. TAN confirms that Stokes has subsequently been granted an export license for the works at the new, reduced sum. 

Pundits have considered whether the sale may endanger the Royal Geographical Society’s status as a designated significant collection in the UK. Others have lobbied for other UK institutions such as the National Maritime Museum to step in and match Stokes price, thus preventing the collection from leaving the country. It is possible that, considering the lower price, a new buyer will come forward. However, at the time of writing, no new offers had been made public.

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