Portrait of Omai by Joshua Reynolds acquired by the National Portrait Gallery

<span>Photo: Alamy</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/dgAwqjpXL1FvcJ0H_tSAZw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/ca235ff950815108e84ce-d7cee831″ datafscee831″ “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/dgAwqjpXL1FvcJ0H_tSAZw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/ca235ff950815108e84ce7ee531fdc8/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photography: Alamy

A painting described as “one of the most important and influential portraits in the history of British art” will remain on public display after being acquired jointly by the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Joshua Reynolds’ 7-foot-tall 1774 portrait of the first Polynesian man to visit Britain is both spiritually breathtaking and, as the country’s first major portrait of a non-white subject, culturally important.

Previously called Omai’s Portrait, it will now be known as Mai’s (Omai) Portrait, reflecting the sitter’s real name.

The photo has been owned since 2001 by Irish businessman and horse stable owner John Magnier and his decision to sell it meant there was a real chance it would end up in private hands and possibly never be seen publicly again.

The National Portrait Gallery has launched a latest bid to raise £50m to prevent this from happening.

It was announced on Tuesday that it had entered into an unusual and “groundbreaking” partnership with the Getty in Los Angeles to successfully acquire the painting.

Each museum will share the cost, with UK money coming from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£10m) and £2.5m from the Art Fund, the largest grant in its 120-year history. Contributions were also received from foundations, trusts and citizens.

The plan now is for the two institutions to share the painting, which will go on display in London when the portrait gallery reopens in June after its three-year closure for a major redevelopment.

NPG director Nicholas Cullinan said the portrait was awe-inspiring and the most significant acquisition the gallery had ever made.

He thanked everyone who had contributed cash. “Together, you have made possible an unprecedented feat.

“My thanks also go to Getty for having the vision to join us in an innovative strategic partnership to ensure this uniquely important painting comes into public ownership for the first time, in Reynolds’ 300th anniversary year, in so that its beauty can be seen and appreciated by all. “

These sentiments were echoed by Timothy Potts, director of the Getty. “Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Mai is not only one of the greatest masterpieces of British art, but also the most tangible and visually compelling manifestation of Europe’s first encounters with Pacific Islander peoples.

“The myriad artistic, historical and cultural questions that Mai’s portrait raises for 21st century viewers and researchers will be the starting point for a joint research project led by the gallery and Getty in the years to come.”

The news was welcomed by artists including Sir Antony Gormley. He said: “It is good news that this significant work can be displayed as part of our national portrait collection.

“It may be the first time that the British establishment represents a member of a tribal society with dignity and respect. Here is an alternative way of being: Mai’s open and engaging face accompanied by her hands; one open to the world in a gesture of giving, the other protective, displaying the tattoos on her knuckles and her bare feet firmly in contact with the earth.

After its exhibition in London, the portrait will be shown in other galleries in the UK. It will be shared equally with the United States and will be on display in California from 2026, coinciding with Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Olympic Games.

The painting is considered one of Reynolds’ largest portraits and depicts Mai, who traveled from Tahiti to England with Captain James Cook.

He became a celebrity and it was said that when he was introduced to George III, he took the royal hand and said, “How are you, King Tosh!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *