Britain faces loss of painting

Marianne Macdonald
Wednesday 11 January 1995 00:02

A masterpiece by the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Altdorfer will be taken out of the country by Rudolf Oetker, the owner of the London dealers Colnaghi, unless British institutions can pay its £2m price tag.

Viscount Astor, the Minister for National Heritage, has deferred a decision to allow export of The Adoration of the Magi until 20 February to enable the British art world to find the money. The rare painting is one of only 30 or so known to survive, and his work is considered to rank alongside Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein.

The National Gallery, which has two of his works, declined to say yesterday whether it would make an offer. But dealers warned that the likelihood of the work staying here would be reduced by its controversial recent history and its price, far above the £66,000 paid for it by Colnaghi in 1988.

The Bond Street dealers acquired the painting after being asked to bid for it on behalf of the National Gallery, which had been advised that the 16th-century work, catalogued as "workshop of Altdorfer", was probably by the master himself.

However, the National Gallery could only authorise a top bid of £60,000 at short notice. Colnaghi bid beyond that on its own behalf and secured the picture for £66,000.

When Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery, then asked Colnaghi to sell them The Adoration for £75,000, Colnaghi reportedly said they would not take less than £1m.

The row which ensued sent shock waves around the art world, with dealers privately voicing the opinion that Colnaghi had not behaved honourably by trying to make a large profit instead of the normal buying commission.

Colnaghi retorted that if they were required to sell to the National Gallery every time they found a bargain masterpiece, there would be no art business in London.

The episode is now likely to reach its conclusion with the purchase by Mr Oetker. He is understood to want to add it to his collection in Germany.

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