When we were in London last fall, we spent a day at the National Gallery, a wonderful museum. One of the most striking paintings we saw was Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, described by the museum as the most important old master painting in Great Britain. The Madonna was prominently displayed in conjunction with the Gallery’s campaign to buy it. There was a sign next to the painting saying that it was owned by the Duke of Northumberland; had been displayed for a considerable time in the National Gallery; but the old Duke had died, and his estate was planning on selling the painting overseas. The Gallery was trying to raise enough money to buy the Raphael from the Duke’s estate and keep it in Great Britain. There was some suggestion that the Duke hadn’t known anything about art, and that either the Duke, or his heirs, or whoever was administering his estate was lacking in patriotism.
Most of the money for the purchase came, no doubt, from the British government, but some was contributed by museum-goers. We contributed some cash to the bin next to the painting, and noted with some satisfaction that most of the money in the bin was American.
Earlier this month, the Gallery bought the painting from the Duke’s estate for $41.7 million.
Now a prominent American art historian says the painting is a fake:
James Beck, Professor of Art History at Columbia University in New York and the President of ArtWatch International, told Friday’s edition of the [London] Times the gallery had paid “a record price for a fake.”
“They haven’t done their homework,” Beck said. “It’s a disgrace. The National Gallery never checked any of them physically. When you’re spending government money, or anyone’s money it’s an omission. Frankly, it’s a kind of arrogance of the Establishment.”
An ancestor of the Duke bought the 1507-8 picture in 1853 but it was long considered a copy until 1991 when Nicholas Penny, the Gallery’s curator, examined the picture and hailed it as the rediscovered masterpiece.
Beck told the paper his research led him to believe the painting was in fact made in 1827 by Vincenzo Camuccini, a frequent copyist of Raphael and a recognized faker.
It is, in any event, a lovely painting: