Brexit sparks an exodus of artworks form the UK

The last days of Britain's membership of the EU saw a rush to get artworks out of the country before the introduction of new export rules.

Among the thousands of lorries backed up in Dover last month trying to get across the Channel, one was carrying a painting by Henri Matisse, says Alberto Nardelli on Bloomberg. Another, transporting a work by Argentinian-born artist Lucio Fontana, was stuck in the queue along with “tens of millions of dollars of other artworks”. All were trying to get to the European Union before the end of “minimal restrictions… without cumbersome tax and customs procedures” that arrived with the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. 

One specialist shipping company saw volume jump by 75% in December compared with the previous year. While some works will return to Britain with a Temporary Admission Bond (an arrangement that defers sales tax for up to two years), the reasons for the exodus were many. Some galleries saw more potential buyers in the EU, others decided that “maintaining the pieces’ European status would better support their financial value in the longer term”. Still others wanted to “preserve the allure of artworks that were originally from Europe”. Whatever the reason, the “impact of the Brexit departures is likely only a ripple in a UK market that in 2019 was estimated to have reached $12.7bn in sales… But it’s still another example of how Brexit is bringing friction to markets where previously there was none”, says Nardelli.

The extra paperwork “is actually proving to be quite a painful process”, Joe Kennedy, co-founder of London gallery Unit London, tells The Art Newspaper. “But we are hopeful these are just growing pains.”

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