Paintings by Angela Kauffman worth £1.5m are at risk of leaving the UK

  • The export bar is to allow time for a UK gallery or institution to acquire the painting
  • The paintings are worth £1.5million and are by one of the leading painters of the neoclassical period

A pair of group portraits of Mr and Mrs Joseph May and their children, dating from 1780, are at risk of leaving the UK unless a buyer is found.

Valued at £1.5million, the two paintings depict a family separated by gender, making them unprecedented in Kauffman’s work, in which families are normally depicted together. His known collection of 800 pieces shows no other evidence of this format, which is an exceptional phenomenon both in Kauffman’s work and in late 18th-century European art.

Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

Angelica Kauffman was one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. These fascinating portraits are highly unusual for the time, depicting an 18th century family separated by gender. I hope a buyer will come forward so they can stay in the UK and we can continue to learn more about these exceptional works of art.

The Minister’s decision follows the advice of the [Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest] ( The committee agreed that the paintings had an unusual and useful composition, and noted that the female group and its allusion to the Virgin Mary were particularly beautiful.

Professor Mark Hallett, member of the committee, said:

Angelica Kauffman was one of Britain’s most important painters of the late 18th century and this is a particularly interesting example of her output. Although the artist is rightly celebrated for her images, Kauffman’s portraits are equally complex and ambitious. This double portrait of the May family, in which Mary May is depicted with her daughters and Joseph May with her sons, is extremely unusual in separating its male and female subjects so directly. At the same time, Kauffman’s deft compositional management ensures that the two images complement each other elegantly. As well as having a powerful aesthetic appeal, the paintings offer a sensitive pictorial meditation on parental and sibling relationships, and on the different stages of childhood. For all these reasons, they make a powerful contribution to our understanding of Georgian portraiture.

The committee made its recommendation on the grounds that the departure of this pair of paintings from the UK would be a misfortune because of their exceptional importance to the study of 18th-century portraiture.

The decision on the request for authorization to export the paintings will be deferred for a period ending on July 24, 2022 inclusive. At the end of the first deferral period, owners will have a cooling-off period of 15 working days to consider any offer to purchase the pair of paintings at the recommended price of £1.5 million (plus VAT of £300 £000 which can be recovered by an eligible institution). The second deferral period will begin after signing an option agreement and will last four months.


Notes to Editors

  1. Organizations or individuals interested in purchasing the pair of paintings should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.
  2. Details of the paintings are as follows: Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807) Mary May (1745–1824) with her daughters Maria Emilia, Louisa and Sophia Margaret and Joseph May (1730–1796) with her sons Joseph (b. 1767), Thomas Charles (1772–1837) and Jean (1775–1856), 1780 Oil on canvas Framed: 144.5 x 176.5 cm
  3. Provenance: Commissioned by Joseph May (1730-1796), for Hale Park, Hampshire; By descent through his daughter Elizabeth by his second marriage, who married Robert Maxwell of Islandmore, Croom, Co. Limerick in 1842; By descent to their daughter-in-law, Mrs. E. Maxwell, Dublin; GB Smith; His sale (probably in the name of Mrs. Maxwell), Christie’s, London, May 15, 1886, lots 87 and 88; Bought by McLean for £173.5 and £63 respectively; By descent from Mr. and Mrs. Keld Fenwick, Sudbury, Suffolk; Mr. John Lecky, London, 1995; From there by descent to the present owner.
  4. The Review Board on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, assisted by Arts Council England (ACE), which advises the Secretary of State for Digital, to culture, media and sports on the question of whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national significance according to specified criteria.
  5. Arts Council England is the national agency for the development of creativity and culture. His strategic vision in Let’s Create is that, by 2030, England should be a country where everyone’s creativity is valued and given the opportunity to flourish and where everyone has access to a remarkable range of cultural experiences. High quality. ACE invests public funds from the government and the National Lottery to support the sector and realize its vision. Following the Covid-19 crisis, ACE developed a £160m emergency response programme, almost 90% of which came from the National Lottery, for organizations and people in need of aid. It is also one of the bodies administering the government’s £1.96billion Culture Recovery Fund.

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