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The National Gallery purchases Raphael’s Madonna of the pinks: What we know

The Raphael was bought by the National Gallery for £22 million in February 2004

Background

It was revealed in September 2002 that the Getty Museum in Los Angeles had bought Raphael’s Madonna of the pinks from the Duke of Northumberland, for £35 million ($62 million). A UK export licence was deferred, and the National Gallery in London set out to raise the necessary money, eventually getting an £11.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There then followed a protracted dispute with the Duke over what constituted a matching offer, taking into account his tax situation, but this was eventually resolved. In February 2004 the Raphael was bought by the National Gallery for £22 million ($41 million).

Our request

Full information on the acquisition—including contacts with the seller, with the UK authorities on the tax situation, with the Getty Museum, and outside funders.

What we got

A file of xeroxed papers, one-inch thick. Much of which related to contacts with the main funders—the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Art Collections Fund.

Surprises

The National Gallery made a direct appeal to the Treasury for a special grant, although such grants have not been available for decades. On 10 June 2003 Treasury Chief Secretary Paul Boateng said no—stating that all requests for additional money “should be addressed to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport”.

A proposal that the National Gallery and the Getty Museum should jointly buy the Raphael was mooted in November 2003, but quickly shot down by the Heritage Lottery Fund. HLF’s letter of 18 November warned: “For our grant of £11.5 million, we had anticipated that the National Gallery would share the Madonna with a number of other UK institutions and museums, on the grounds that any benefits from the Lottery should be spread as wide as possible. But we had not considered that this sharing out go any wider than the boundaries of the UK. Any changes of this magnitude would, of course, require our board to look again at their original decision.” Not surprisingly, the National Gallery immediately dropped the idea.

A sign of the new openness under the FOI Act is the release of papers about an awkward incident which occurred on 11 November 2003, when Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota made a controversial speech at a National Art Collections Fund conference which was subsequently distorted in certain press reports. Sir Nicholas had raised questions about the money that would be needed to save the Raphael. Tate chairman David Verey wrote to the National Gallery chairman on 24 November to “offer a formal apology for any ill feeling caused by the misrepresentation of Nicholas Serota’s speech”. The documents released also showed that Arts Minister Estelle Morris wrote to the Tate director, describing his address as excellent—“challenging, thoughtful and not accepting established practices just because they have been there for years!”

What we didn’t get

Twelve pages had censored material, although on average only one line a page was blacked out. No correspondence with the Duke of Northumberland or his agents was released, presumably on privacy grounds. Similarly, there was nothing on the prolonged negotiations over the price, which related to the Duke’s tax affairs. More surprisingly, there was no correspondence with the Getty Museum.

What next

The National Gallery volunteered that it is still considering whether to release additional papers. This is expected to take a further three weeks—and we will report back in our April issue.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The National Gallery: Raphael’s Madonna of the pinks'