National wins the battle for Raphael as Getty pulls out

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The Independent Online

A Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael has been saved for the nation after a wealthy American gallery withdrew from the battle to buy the work.

Charles Saumarez Smith, the director of the National Gallery, announced yesterday that he had purchased the Madonna of the Pinks for £22m with the help of a late donation from the philanthropist Christopher Ondaatje. The sale was completed on Thursday night after the rival for the painting, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, withdrew its application for an export licence.

The Getty had bought the work for £35m in 2002 from its owner, the Duke of Northumberland. The painting had been loaned to the National for more than a decade after one of its curators identified the painting as being by Raphael. The National believed it should have been offered first refusal when the duke decided to sell.

The Government barred export of the work while the National tried to match the offer. The gallery secured a crucial, but controversial, £11.5m donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the cost, the biggest grant the fund had awarded for a painting.

After the Getty pulled out, Sotheby's helped negotiate a private treaty sale, which offers a better tax break for the National and accrues tax benefits to the seller. The duke would have had to pay many millions to the Inland Revenue if the work had gone abroad.

Mr Saumarez Smith said the National was "delighted" to have secured the painting. "It's a fantastic success that the sale has finally been agreed although all parties will probably agree that they wished it had not taken quite so long."

Some argued the National had enough Raphaels and that the money would be better spent on other works. Others queried whether the painting was by Raphael. The public gave £70,000 towards saving it. The National Art Collection Fund gave a further £400,000. Mr Ondaatje, the brother of the author Michael Ondaatje, gave a substantial but undisclosed donation.

The duke, whose family had owned the painting since 1853, had sold it to help fund repairs to his castle, Alnwick. It is to go on tour to Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Co Durham before going on display at the National in October.

The successful resolution of the Madonna episode comes as the Tate waits to secure the Portrait of Omai by Joshua Reynolds after a year of negotiations.