A portrait that the Frick Collection called its “most significant painting purchase in nearly 30 years” may not join its collection after all. The export license granted to François-Pascal-Simon Gérard’s nearly seven-foot-tall portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese from about 1810 has been revoked by the Italian government, which is seeking its return saying the license should not have been issued in the first place.
A spokesperson for the Frick declined to comment on the decision, but Robilant + Voena, the gallery that sold the painting to the New York City museum for an undisclosed sum, said of the Italian government: “They risk making a mockery of the entire decision-making process, and they undermine trust in their expertise and consistency in their own assessments.”
Maria Vittoria Marini Clarelli, the head of the circulation department of the directorate-general of archaeology, fine art, and landscape at the Italian culture ministry in Rome, said the decision to retract the work’s export license was informed by “the importance of the painting for national patrimony as a rare and significant document of the Napoleonic era in Italy.”
Calling the move “incomprehensible,” Robilant + Voena has enlisted Art Recovery International, which “provides research, dispute resolution and art recovery services, offering [its] clients expert and ethical advice on the management, acquisition and return of cultural property,” according to its site. Christopher Marinello, the company’s chief executive, told The Art Newspaper, “We believe that the dealer is acting completely in good faith and we hope to persuade the authorities to withdraw their claim.”