British culture chief blocks export of rare sculpture

A race against time started Thursday to stop a sculpture by one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century leaving Britain.

Unless a price tag of 2,899,836 U.S. dollars can be matched, the work, 'Femme' by Alberto Giacometti, is at risk of being exported to an unnamed overseas buyer.

Britain's culture minister Ed Vaizey Thursday placed a temporary export bar on Femme, which is just 35.6 cm high, in a final effort to save the plaster sculpture for the nation.

A decision on an export license application for the sculpture to be taken abroad has been put on hold until May 23, with a possible extension to Sept. 23 if a serious fundraising effort to meet the price is in place.

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) is regarded as one of the most important Surrealist sculptors of the period. His 'L'Homme qui marche I' (Walking Man I) sculpture fetched a record 90 million U.S. dollars at a Sotheby's auction in 2010.

Femme is the only pure plaster by Giacometti known to be in Britain and art experts consider it an important link between British and continental modernism in the 1930s.

Vaizey said: "This Giacometti sculpture is not only a stunning example of his work but it also heavily influenced some of our greatest artists. It is important that Femme is kept in the country so we can better understand and enjoy this pivotal period in modern British art."

The decision to defer the export license follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council.

Femme was created in 1929 and was purchased by abstract painter Winifred Nicholson just as the European modern art movement began to influence British art. Giacometti's works also heavily influenced other notable artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth.

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