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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Treasures of the Brits

And here’s an interesting footnote to the tale of Jane Austen’s ring – bought at auction four years ago by American singer Kelly Clarkson, then bought back by Jane Austen’s House Museum, after British authorities refused to let Clarkson take this priceless piece of British heritage out of the country.

Turns out Clarkson isn’t the only rich collector to run afoul of this particular element of UK export law. Just yesterday the BBC reported that a sapphire-and-diamond coronet Prince Albert designed for Queen Victoria to wear at their 1840 wedding is under the same temporary ban that ultimately prevented Clarkson from exporting the Austen ring.

In the past decade, the ban, which gives potential UK buyers time to match the price offered by the would-be exporter, has also been invoked, with mixed success, to thwart the removal of an 1842 landscape by JMW Turner, a classic Bentley racing car, a medieval Italian panel, and a beloved Picasso, the BBC reports.

I get why objects owned or created by British artists or rulers count as British national treasures, but not why Italian and Spanish paintings that just happen to be owned by UK collectors earn this designation. A teensy bit colonialist, no? But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to encounter this attitude in a country that still won’t return the Elgin Marbles.


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