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$40 million Raphael 'a fake'

Dozens of versions of the painting have been traced around the world.
Dozens of versions of the painting have been traced around the world.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- A Raphael painting bought by Britain's National Gallery this month for 22 million pounds ($41.7 million) is a fake, a U.S. art professor says.

The gallery secured the "Madonna of the Pinks," which it called the most significant Old Master in any British collection, after a fight to keep it in the country.

But James Beck, Professor of Art History at Columbia University in New York and the President of ArtWatch International, told Friday's edition of the 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."

The picture, so called because it depicts the Virgin Mary with a sprig of pink flowers, was bought from the Duke of Northumberland.

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.

"I think he did this not only for money, but to compete with the Great Masters and fool the public," he said.

The Gallery has listed 40 versions of the painting around the world, while Beck said he had found at least five more. Beck said he believed none of the surviving versions was by Raphael.

The Gallery has said the picture, which measures just 11.4 by nine inches ((29 by 23 cm), had a different finish and coloring to other Raphael's but added it followed the advice of 25 Raphael experts who all confirmed the attribution.

The gallery's 22 million pounds was raised jointly by Britain's National Lottery and donations from the public.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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