A painting by Joseph Wright, the artist dubbed the Painter of Light, could leave the UK unless a buyer is found to match its £7.4 million price tag.
Arts minister Michael Ellis has placed a temporary export bar on An Academy By Lamplight in an attempt to keep it in the country.
Wright (1734 – 1797) was nicknamed the Painter of Light for the candle-lit scenes he produced early in his career.
I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this extraordinary painting in the country so that it can be enjoyed by future generationsArts minister Michael Ellis
He is famous for his use of the chiaroscuro effect, which emphasises the contrast between light and dark, while his works “record the struggles of the development of science against traditional religious values during the Age of Enlightenment”.
Mr Ellis said: “Wright is one of the most pre-eminent painters of the Age of Enlightenment. His works help us to better understand the mix of religion and science in this period of huge industrial development.
“I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this extraordinary painting in the country so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.”
A buyer is needed to match the asking price of £7,456,440.
The decision to defer the export licence 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.