Thursday, November 24, 2011


Degas on show at Royal Academy of Arts has government indemnity withdrawn
An advertisement in a London newspaper listed the drawing as “for sale” while the exhibition is running

By Martin Bailey. Web only
Published online: 23 November 2011

London. A Degas at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) has had its government indemnity withdrawn, following enquiries by The Art Newspaper. The charcoal drawing of the Dancer, 1880-85, is currently in the “Degas and the Ballet” exhibition (until 11 December).

Dancer has been on display as lent by Trinity House, a London and New York dealer. On 22 November, Trinity House ran a large advertisement in the London newspaper the Daily Telegraph, stating prominently that the drawing is “currently on loan to the Royal Academy” and “available for sale”. The work was also featured on the home page of Trinity House’s website. It, like the rest of the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of art in the Degas show, is covered by UK government indemnity.

However, the advertisement contravened UK government guidelines, which forbid owners or dealers “to capitalise” on the public display of indemnified works of art. Following our enquiry, the RA immediately informed Arts Council England, which administers the indemnity system, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. After its initial contact with Trinity House, the RA told The Art Newspaper that the advertisement for Dancer had been “a genuine misunderstanding on the part of the owner” and “the work is no longer for sale”.

Trinity House then told us that it did not own the Degas, although it had at one point. Director Steven Beale said that, about five months ago, the new private owner of Dancer had asked Trinity to sell the drawing, but it had been withdrawn from the market before the loan to the RA exhibition. He said that the wording of the “Daily Telegraph” advertisement had been an “error”. The intention had been to promote the fact that Trinity had facilitated the loan, in the hope they would get “inquiries” for other works from potential Degas buyers.

Later on 23 November, the RA came back with more information. They had discovered that Trinity House had been the owner of the drawing when the loan had been organised, but the work had subsequently been sold. The RA immediately informed the UK authorities.

It was agreed that, “given that the indemnity cover clearly rested with the owners on the loan form, Trinity House, the indemnity was clearly not valid.” That meant that the drawing had no indemnity or insurance. The unnamed owner immediately paid for commercial insurance to cover the Degas—and it remains on view.

With “Degas and the Ballet” ending in a few weeks, the RA will soon be facing the question of to whom Dancer should be returned. It will be investigating this with Trinity House, to seek proof of sale and confirmation of legal title. Meanwhile it remains on view at the RA—and a label recording the new ownership is expected to go up later this week.

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