The Los Angeles museum buys the manuscript for $3.1 million, but a UK export licence has been deferred while the Cambridge museum tries to raise funds
The Fitzwilliam and Getty museums are competing to buy the Macclesfield Psalter, which is now subject to a UK export licence deferral. Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum had earlier tried to raise funds to buy the early 14th-century East Anglian manuscript at auction, but this proved impossible after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) turned down a request for a grant. Although the Sotheby’s estimate was £800,000-£1.2 million, it became clear that the psalter would go for considerably more, and the Fitzwilliam therefore requested a grant of up to £2.35 million. HLF was concerned that the delicate nature of the manuscript meant there would not be enough public access and it would be difficult to use it to attract “new audiences”, hence its rejection.
Meanwhile, London dealer Sam Fogg was keen on bidding at the 22 June auction, so he undertook to go for it on his own account, on the understanding that if he was successful he would offer the Fitzwilliam first refusal, at no mark-up. Fogg was willing to go up to £1.5 million, and he was the underbidder when the Getty bought it for £1,686,000.
Although the Getty Museum in Los Angeles until recently had a policy of not buying works of art which UK public collections wished to acquire, this concession was effectively ended last year when it tried to acquire Raphael’s “Madonna of the pinks”, which eventually went to the National Gallery for £22 million after the deduction of tax from a gross figure of £35 million.
On 10 August Arts Minister Estelle Morris deferred an export licence on the Macclesfield Psalter until 10 November, with the possibility of a further extension to 10 February 2005 if there is a serious effort to raise the funds. The psalter has a “starred” rating, which means that the Export Reviewing Committee recognises that every effort should be made to save it for the nation. The Fitzwilliam is still determined to acquire the manuscript, which was discovered last year in the library of the Earl of Macclesfield at Shirburn Castle. Fundraising will be difficult without lottery support, but the National Art Collections Fund has pledged £400,000 and some museum funds are available. The Fitzwilliam may also submit an application to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which is run by the HLF trustees.