British art exports hit highest level since credit crunch began

FOREIGN buyers paid almost £2bn for British art and cultural items during 2011-12, up a third on the previous year, according to figures out today that show the UK art market is near its pre-crash peak.

This is despite the introduction of new laws granting artists – or heirs of artists who have died within the last 70 years – the right to four per cent of all resale values.

“Many art experts and dealers were concerned that London’s position in the art world could suffer,” said Massimo Sterpi, co-editor of The Art Collecting Legal Handbook. “The early indications are that this hasn’t slowed down the London market.”

Sterpi credits London’s position as a hub for the super-rich for its resurgent art market. Cash-rich Russians and Gulf residents have helped drive sales, with modern art exports jumping to £687m in the twelve months to May 2012, up from £335m in the year before.

He claims the market has become so dependent on these buyers that London art prices correlate to the performance of their domestic economies.

However, would-be foreign buyers of British art still face the risk that the government may impose an export ban if the item is considered to be of national importance.

Earlier this month culture minister Ed Vaizey found himself battling pop star Kelly Clarkson after the American singer bought a ring that belonged to Jane Austen for £150,000.

The Tory minister invoked the export rule and British buyers now have until the end of September to match the price and keep the ring in the UK.

Figures from the legal publisher Sweet & Maxwell show the UK art export market peaked at £2.11bn in 2007-08 before bottoming out at £1.18bn in 2009-10.