Europe's most historic cavalry (immortalized in thread) may soon return to England for the first time in nearly a millennium. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the country's willingness to loan the approximately 950-year-old Bayeux Tapestry to the UK. The last formal call to display the tapestry in the region was in 1956 after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The case raises important questions about crafting loan agreements, the logistics of transfer, and the purpose of lending. It provides a lesson for not only those who operate cultural institutions, but also those who have an interest in donating collections, lending art or funding such transfers in the future.
Also, given that the Bayeux Tapestry is a movement of art into the UK, we will look briefly at some Brexit related points.
Purpose (the big vision) and Conditions (the small print) of Art Loans
Capturing the purpose of a loan as well as setting out clearly its terms and conditions is critical.Both are crucial to a successful loan. Outlining in the loan documentation the lender's vision and purpose will help protect the integrity of what they want to achieve.The terms and conditions will aid with the physical care of the artwork.
In respect of purpose, a controversy over collector's intent recently occurred in the United States. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum surprised many when it denied a loan request submitted by the White House's Office of the Curator. The painting in question, Landscape with Snow (Paysage enneig_ c.1888) by Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, is part of a private collection which prohibits any of its pieces "...from travel except for the rarest of occasions." Furthermore, that the work was scheduled for temporary display at the Guggenheim's branch in Bilbao, Spain provided another reason. This scenario reveals why drafters of gifts or contracts must include clear provisions about the conditions of their bequest, and particularly what activity is prohibited. There is additional necessity to include remedial provisions in the event of a breach, as well as procedures that outline how to review and amend terms.
The City of Bayeux, which has formal control over the Bayeux Tapestry's movement, published preliminary conditions for its much anticipated and unprecedented transfer. It was stipulated that before a loan can occur a restoration evaluation must be conducted to determine the possibility of lending. If successful, then further evaluation will need to be done to stabilise the work and prepare it for movement. Additionally, the city announced that the timing of the loan must coincide with the renovation and reopening of the Museum of the Tapestry. This provides a specific period for the loan to occur: no sooner than 2023 and ending by the spring of 2024. However, President Macron publically announced a much sooner estimate of as early as 2020. It will be interesting to learn what date the French State, City of Bayeux and British Parliament agree upon.
Bye, Bye, Bayeux _ Shipping Art after Brexit
Another element of art's transit that is especially relevant when dealing with very rare and old objects, like the Bayeux Tapestry, is having the support of the governing state in which the object resides. Many countries have national patrimony laws that require historically and culturally significant art and artefacts to leave their borders accompanied with export licenses.For the UK, export licenses are currently part of EU law and are based on value as well as cultural significance.Export licenses control the movement of artwork and seek to balance the rights of individual owners, protect the nation's 'treasures' and support the place of a country's art market.
For the Bayeux Tapestry, it is essential that the French government supports its lending. France has in the past denied export permits for items of debatably less significance. Bearing this in mind, art owners and gallery or museum managers should assess the feasibility of securing an export permit well in advance. This will help make certain the ability to execute the loan or transfer.
Beyond the current Bayeux Tapestry loan, it is unclear post-Brexit how the UK export license system will look or function.There will also be Brexit considerations about VAT (or any equivalent replacement) and how it will operate for the movement of artwork.
This update was written by Brodies and Brieanah Gouveia.Brieanah is an Art History MSc student at the University of Glasgow, specialising in antiquities trafficking and cultural patrimony law.