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London gallery wins Raphael fight

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February 14, 2004|Suzanne Muchnic

A long-running battle over who would buy Raphael's "Madonna of the Pinks" from the Duke of Northumberland -- the National Gallery in London or the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles -- ended Thursday night with a victory for the British. The gallery will pay $41.75 million for the early 16th century Italian Renaissance painting, said to be the last uncontested Raphael in private hands.

The painting, a small devotional image of the Madonna and Christ child with a sprig of pink flowers, has been on loan to the National Gallery since 1992. In fall 2002, the duke agreed to sell it to the Getty at an undisclosed price, pegged at about $46.6 million by British authorities. The gallery launched a drive to keep the picture, and the British government temporarily banned its exportation to allow time for fundraising.

Money to purchase the picture came from the National Lottery and public donations. Although the British did not match the Getty's offer, the duke will receive a tax break that makes up the difference.

"We congratulate the British and regret the loss of the Raphael, which would have enriched millions of museum visitors at the Getty," said Pamela Johnson, vice president of communications and corporate relations at the Getty Trust.

Raphael is thought to have painted "Madonna of the Pinks" in Florence in 1507 or 1508, before going to Rome to paint frescoes at the Vatican. Measuring just 11.4 by 9 inches, the painting is a scene of joyous intimacy. It will go on a national tour and return to the National Gallery for a Raphael exhibition in October.

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