Britain Blocks Export of Lawrence Robes

LONDON.- Two of T.E. Lawrence’s most iconic possessions are at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking prices of £122,500 for his dagger and £12,500 for his robes.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed two separate temporary export bars to provide an opportunity to keep these national treasures in the UK.

Lawrence was considered one of the most recognizable figures of the First World War, following his work in the Middle East and his involvement in the Arab Revolt.

The archaeologist and diplomat worked closely with numerous Arab leaders and would always be seen in traditional Arab dress. These white silk robes were made in Mecca or Medina and he wears them in the 1919 oil portrait by Augustus John.

The steel and silver dagger was famously presented to him by Sherif Nasir in 1917 after the victory at Aqaba in Jordan, a scene featured in the Oscar-winning film Lawrence of Arabia.

Lawrence posed with both the curved dagger - called a jambiya - and the robes while sitting for the sculptor Lady Kathleen Scott, the widow of Scott of the Antarctic, in 1921. He left them behind after his final session so Scott could continue working and they have remained in her family ever since.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: "T.E. Lawrence was one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th Century. These robes and dagger are absolutely iconic and a key part of his enduring image. It is important that these classic objects remain in the UK."

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

The RCEWA made their recommendation on the grounds of both the robes and dagger’s close association with our history and national life.

RCEWA Chairman Sir Hayden Phillips said: "Although the depiction, in the film Lawrence of Arabia, of Lawrence leading a sweeping camel charge across the desert into Aqaba in 1917 is probably a romantic exaggeration - stunning though it is - the taking of Aqaba from the landward side, with the help of Auda Abu Tayi, leader of the northern Howeitat, was an extraordinary feat and marked a crucial turning point in the campaign."

"The dagger was presented to Lawrence by Sherif Nasir in gratitude for Lawrence’s leadership and as a spontaneous mark of respect. The robes and dagger together form a crucial part of the images of Lawrence in painting, sculpture and photographs; and they are therefore an integral part of his life and our history."

The decision on the export licence application for the robes will be deferred until 1 April 2016. This may be extended until 1 July 2016 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the robes is made at the recommended price of £12,500 (plus VAT of £500).

Today's homepage Featured Art Video presents original footage of Sir T.E. Lawrence.