The portrait of the 5th Earl of Carlisle (1748-1825), aged 20, settled £4.71m of tax due from the descendants of the sitter.
The total figure offset to bring the work into public ownership represented a high price for the artist. It exceeded the £3.3m (£3.78m with premium) set by Reynolds’ portrait of Mrs George Hardinge that sold at Christie’s in June. The sum was still some way below the highest price ever achieved for the artist – Portrait of Omai that sold for £9.4m at Sotheby’s in 2001, a work that also came from Castle Howard.
Indeed, the famous Omai painting from 1776 ended up at the centre of a legal dispute between the owners of Castle Howard and HM Revenue & Customs over whether it should be liable to capital gains tax.
Here, the portrait of the 5th Earl of Carlisle who, incidentally, had originally acquired the portrait of Omai for Castle Howard back in the 1790s, was more straightforward in terms of its tax settlement.
It has now been allocated to Tate but will remain on public display in the Yorkshire estate. The Art Council said that in the future will be shown elsewhere around the country including at Tate Britain.
The acquisition of the Reynolds painting in lieu of tax followed the sale of furniture and works of art from Castle Howard at Sotheby’s in July last year. That auction included two early 17th century gilt bronze and pietre dura inlaid Italian cabinets which sold at £1.05m (£1.27m inc. buyer’s premium) and were subsequently blocked from export.
It emerged last week that the cabinets had also been acquired for the nation after the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge raised the requisite funds.