A painting by Thomas Gainsborough is at risk of leaving the UK unless a buyer is found for the £8 million work.
The British portrait and landscape artist painted Going To Market, Early Morning in 1773.
The work features figures on horseback passing a destitute mother with a baby.
Arts Minister Helen Whately has now placed an export bar on the painting in an attempt to keep it in the UK, in the hope that a gallery or museum can acquire it.
She said: “Gainsborough is one of the greatest British landscape artists and his works still wow audiences….
“This piece is a superb example and I hope that a UK buyer can be found so we can find a new home for this work in our national collection.”
The decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee On The Export Of Works Of Art And Objects Of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).
Committee member Christopher Baker said: “Thomas Gainsborough is chiefly known as a refined portrait painter, however he also composed idyllic, rural scenes and Going To Market, Early Morning is one of his greatest achievements in this genre.”
The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until March 22 next year.