Britain's arts world. Deja vu all over again.


JMW Turner's Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino is a crowd pleaser, and the crowds it will be pleasing are going to be in LA at the Getty Museum.



25 years ago I began my career in Britain covering the arts in London. Margaret Thatcher was in power. Financial markets had been deregulated, people were getting rich and art auctions were booming.

Masterpieces were going for unheard of prices (of course, today those prices have been heard so often they don't even rate a headline).

Anyway, Britain has laws to protect its artistic patrimony. The owner of a painting can sell it at auction but then an export license has to be given. If a piece of work is of national importance, granting the license is delayed to give either the government or a private patron an opportunity to purchase the work of art for the nation.

There was a lot of controversy back then. So many pieces were being sold they couldn't all be kept in Britain. Besides, it fit Thatcherite ideology to let the market rule. If a private owner wanted to sell his or her property it wasn't for the state to intervene.

Anyway, we have another right-wing Conservative government in charge today - it may be a coalition but you would be naive to think that the Lib Dem tail is wagging the dog - and the market rules.

So JMW Turner's Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino will be gracing the airy confines of the Getty Museum overlooking the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. The "nation" could not match the £30 million ($46.5 million) bid of the Getty for the picture. Other masterpieces heading off these shores include paintings by Poussin and Van Dyck.

A full report on what's staying and what's leaving Britain is here.