Permits for the definitive exit of historical heritage assets outside of Spain have increased every year since 2012. Between that year and 2017, the Ministry of Culture processed 59% more export authorizations, from almost 1,300 to more than 2,000. These permits are mandatory for certain objects of artistic or historical interest to cross the border. These 2,000 output files include 8,405 works of all kinds: painting, sculpture, tapestry or manuscripts, which are related to the history of Spain.
The most interesting goods, however, are usually denied exit. Thus, a proportion close to 2% of processed export applications ends, at an average of sixty cases per year. The Ministry has slowed the exit of works like Guitar on a chair, an oil painting with sand and collage of Juan Gris dated in 1913 and valued by the owner at 55 million euros, the highest of the last six years. Other illustrious names of art frequently appear in this list: Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Murillo or Sorolla. EL PAÍS has accessed the complete list of these works under the Transparency Law. You can consult it here.
A majority of owners want to sell outside of Spain; in the international market the prices of the limited national market are often exceeded
The best known case is Head of young woman, the picasso owned by the ex-president of Bankinter, Jaime Botín, who came out of Spanish jurisdictional waters. Botín proposed to Culture to exhibit the seized work in exchange for getting rid of the prosecutor's request for jail sentence. He is still awaiting trial.
In the inventory there are jewels of millions of euros, atlas almost unique in the world, but also a painted wooden ceiling or the first swimming book published in Spain, in 1840. A bowl of about 50 euros is the object valued for less money among those denied in these years. The Ministry justifies not leaving Spain because, according to the denial document, "everything seems to indicate" that comes from an archaeological site of the Argaric culture, about 4,000 years ago.
A majority of owners want to sell outside Spain, according to the experts consulted. And it is that the prices that can be obtained in the international market usually surpass those that are achieved in the limited Spanish market. That ceiling, for important works, reaches up to "four or six million euros", according to Jaime Mato, the president of the association that brings together the Spanish auctioneers (AESSAC). From that amount, the natural output of these works is abroad. "In a picasso, a He looked or a goya, If the work is very important in price or relevance, it is where it is harmed the most [al propietario], because he has more options with international clients of high purchasing power, "says Mato Without offering specific figures, the expert points to a price difference of" between 10% and 100% "between a sale in Spain or the market International, although only in singular works.From the Madrid auction house Abalarte, its director, Gonzalo Mora, considers that selling outside Spain "can be double or triple [de los ingresos posibles] for the owners ".
The Ministry of Culture usually wield to deny an export that the work is unique or that similar copies do not abound in the Spanish art collections. To study the petitions, Culture uses a consultative body, the Board of Qualification, Valuation and Exportation of Historical Heritage. Its 22 members, with the help of experts in each subject, meet 11 times a year to study the descriptions and assessments received from the owners and propose to the Ministry in which cases it is necessary to allow the works to leave and in which they do not.
The exit of works has been stopped Guitar on a chair, of Juan Gris, and valued at 55 million euros by the owner
"The regulations do not offer an objective criterion, but the qualified opinion of specific experts is used", illustrates Mónica García-Perrote, lawyer specialized in the art market of the Cuatrecasas law firm. "The law that rules is old, from 1985, and it is vague, and sometimes, even for experts in art law, it is difficult to determine what is Spanish historical heritage." However, in his opinion, the decisions of the Board tend to be "well reasoned".
However, not all owners are satisfied with the denial criteria. One of them, consulted for this report and who asks not to give his name, requested permits for a dozen objects last year, of which he was denied the release of four. "To give these pieces at a price to the Ministry of Culture, I do not do that under any circumstances." Another thing is that I donated them in my day, but to the museum or collection that I like, "he says. In the reasons in which he was explained by letter why he was denied export, he is referred to the extraordinary state of conservation and the great interest for public collections.
The need for liquidity
The owners of large collections have resorted to the sale of some of the pieces to face the expense of maintaining them. It was the argument used by the foundation of the Casa de Alba to sell a handwritten letter from Christopher Columbus in 2015, but the export was denied. With the economic crisis, other great owners of art, such as the Medinaceli Foundation of Seville, also feared to reduce revenues. Because They considered selling one of their works, The drag of the bull from Goya. "As a precautionary measure, we thought we would sell the painting that was farthest from the Medinaceli collections, which had less connection with the family because its incorporation is more recent," says the director of the foundation, Juan Manuel Albendea. They requested permission to leave Spain and it was denied in 2013, but then they argued that the collection to which the piece originally belonged was already scattered throughout Spain and Europe, and also that with the proceeds they could address works in some of the properties of the family. In the end, the permission was granted and the work came to travel to London, but the foundation finally decided not to sell it. "The crisis has more or less been overcome," explains Albendea. The Goya, in spite of arousing the interest of buyers, he returned to Seville, where he remains.
"Sometimes, even for experts in art law, it is difficult to determine what is Spanish historical heritage," explains lawyer Mónica García-Perrote
At the time of requesting the export permit, the owner has to indicate in the form an estimate of its value. This price is considered an "irrevocable sale offer in favor of the Administration": if you are interested, the State can buy it directly paying that price. The budget to buy works is around four million euros per year, sources from the Qualification Board report.
In this way, some singular goods that he intended to sell abroad have been transferred to the public collections. So it was with a manuscript of 1773 with 32 watercolors of birds and marine life of Mallorca, work of Antonio de Recondo. Her former owners, owners of a bookstore in Madrid, always wondered how it ended up in the collection of Henry Bradley Martin, a rich American ornithologist. "At the auction of his library, he was bought by an American gallery owner, and my father bought it from him in the nineties," says Alicia Bardón. In 2013 they rejected a petition to exhibit it in a Old books fair in New York. "I was denied and I asked again in 2016. They told me they would buy it when there was a budget," he explains. The National Library finally acquired it last December for 40,000 euros.
Increase interest in Spanish art abroad
To the interest of the owners to sell outside the one of the international buyers by the Spanish art is added. Jaime Mato, who in addition to presiding over the auctioneers is the CEO of Ansorena, one of the largest auction houses, attributes the phenomenon to more information about the available offer. Buyers consult catalogs on the Internet. But, in addition, export requests are managed in a "much more agile" way now than a few years ago.
Sometimes the success of an exhibition of international impact spurs the interest for a time or an artistic genre little exploited. Since the National Gallery in London In 2009 he dedicated a show to Spanish painting and sculpture From the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the auction houses of the United States and the United Kingdom have shown more interest in the polychrome wood of that time. "[Las casas] they want to put carvings of that time in half of the rooms dedicated to baroque painting, "says Juan Dobado, a Carmelite priest and curator specializing in religious art." There is a huge interest in Juan de Mesa, but above all in La Roldana ", Many of the funds come from the disentailment of religious sites in the 19th century. to the Coll & Cortés auction house, which has offices in Madrid and London, as the most interested in that area. Housekeepers have declined to give their vision for this story.
The owners of the objects of the Spanish historical heritage that want to sell them or move them abroad present a form to the Ministry requesting the export permit, including the description, destination and economic valuation. The Ministry can accept or reject the petition, for which it uses the Qualification, Evaluation and Evaluation Board, a consultative body made up of 22 members that analyzes the requests. It meets 11 times a year in meetings that usually last about five hours.
If the State considers that the goods must remain in Spain for their special interest, it denies the permit and, therefore, its exit from the territory. In the period between 2012 and 2017, the administration denied the export of some good in about 350 files. Each one of these can include from a single artistic or historical asset up to 99, as it happens with auction lots. When a request is denied, the autonomous community in which it is located is informed in case they consider granting special public protection to the property. For example, declaring it as of Cultural Interest, as it happened this September with the paint Saint Jerome Cardinal, attributed to El Greco, or as it can happen with La mère bien aimée, from Greuze or End of the day, from Sorolla. On the objects of exceptional importance, a precautionary measure of inexportability is adopted while the case is being studied, as happened with 13 works in 2017.
Not all exports, however, seek sale. In addition to the final exits, the export of cultural goods can be made temporarily (485 in 2017), as when you want to move the goods for international exhibitions or for their restoration. You can also request a temporary export with possibility of sale (999 in 2017). This is the formula that is usually used when the sale is not safe, but you want to show it to potential buyers. If the requirement of the permit that applies to works of a certain age (100 or 50 years, depending on the final destination, inside or outside the EU) or qualification is not fulfilled, the export could be considered illegal and the owner is exposed to losing the property of the well in favor of the State.
"The art market, like any market, is constantly looking for new fields, new mines, new areas," says the director of the Reina Sofía Museum, Manuel Borja-Villel. In its closest area, that of modern and contemporary art, specifies that figures from that era who have not been in the spotlight, such as Esteban Francés or Remedios Varo, arouse interest in the Spanish market, but no. This is what the expert explains: "In contemporary art in Spain there is no strong collection structure as in Germany, Brazil, the US or Mexico."