A commentary on the loan of the Bayeux Tapestry from a legal perspective

18 Jan 2018

The French President has agreed to loan the Bayeux Tapestry to the UK, making it the first time the tapestry will have left France for 950 years. It is reported that President Macron’s agreement is the result of lengthy discussions between the two governments, however, those negotiations won’t be at an end just yet. It is expected that the UK will receive the tapestry at the earliest in 2020 (possibly not until 2022), meaning that whichever institution is chosen to display the tapestry will have at least two years to negotiate the terms of the loan.

Whenever any valuable piece of art is loaned between institutions or nations, there is a detailed contract setting out the conditions of the loan. Given the value – both cultural and financial – of the tapestry, this will doubtless include how the tapestry should be displayed, for example, given its age and the fragility of the material, the tapestry will likely need to be in a room with carefully controlled lighting and temperature levels. The agreement will record the condition of the artwork in case it is damaged while in the possession of the borrower, and in instances of long-term loans, the lender may have the right to regular inspections of the artwork to ensure that it is being properly maintained and protected by the borrower. The borrower will doubtless also have to take out insurance in case of damage, theft or any other risk to the artwork; the UK government has a national indemnity scheme which provides specialist cover for works of art being loaned to the UK’s various institutions. The above are just some of the issues which the parties will need to consider, among others will be agreement on how the tapestry will be packed and transported (in order to ensure its protection in transit) and what – if any – security will be required during the journeys to and from the UK.

The loan of the tapestry is a momentous occasion, with rumours of a reciprocal loan (possibly of the Rosetta Stone). Naturally both nations will be looking to take all appropriate measures to protect these irreplaceable items of historical significance while strengthening their relationship with a neighbouring country.

As the proprietor of its own art gallery, Collyer Bristow takes a keen interest in developments in the art world, and our Corporate and Commercial team at Collyer Bristow has extensive experience negotiating such loan agreements with various institutions.