‘Truly grotesque’ Victorian crab sculpture blocked from overseas sale

Adam Forrest

The government has stepped in to stop a “truly grotesque” antique crab sculpture from leaving the UK.

The rare Victorian ceramic creation, sporting wide eyes and an amusing toothy leer, has been sold to a foreign buyer – but is being blocked from export by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Arts minister Rebecca Pow decided it was important to keep the unique crab sculpture – worth almost a quarter of a million pounds – in Britain to “inspire future generations of potters”.

The item was made in 1880 by the Martin Brothers, renowned craftsman famed for their “whimsical” works inspired by Gothic art and the natural world.

Efforts are now under way to find a new buyer for the crustacean, with hopes the £217,000 asking price can soon be matched.

Ms Pow said: “The Martin Brothers are famous for creating unique and unusual works that are entertaining yet at the same time unsettling, which makes the crab with teeth such a whimsical and eclectic treasure.

“I hope that a buyer can be found so we can keep this work in this country to inspire future generations of potters.”

Although the price of the crab is £217,000, it comes with an expected VAT bill of £43,000.

Export of the sculpture was recommended to be blocked by experts on a DCMS advisory body, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).

Sir Hayden Phillips, chairman of the committee, said of the Martin Brothers creation: “A truly grotesque creature, it represents the pinnacle of their work, and we also concluded that it was of outstanding aesthetic importance reflecting the fact that this criterion does not necessarily imply that an object has to be beautiful to pass that test.”

The final decision on the export licence applications for the crab will be deferred until September. This may be extended until December if a serious attempt to raise funds to purchase it is made.