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The Getty Museum gets a masterpiece out of England*

December 10, 2008 |  1:40 pm

'Wilderness With the Temptation of St. Anthony'

The British have been in a bit of a froth ever since the Duke of Sutherland announced he needed to sell a pair of Titian masterpieces, with a Dec. 31 deadline set for "Diana and Actaeon." The National Gallery of Scotland, where the picture has been on loan since 1945, and London's National Gallery have mounted a joint campaign to come up with nearly $75 million to keep it in Great Britain, and they're reportedly  nearing the goal. Next up is "Diana and Callisto," with the same (below-market) asking price and a three-year deadline.

Perhaps Britain's preoccupation with the Titians, coupled with the meltdown in the international financial markets, helped the J. Paul Getty Museum spirit a new acquisition out of London, where the painting had been on long-term loan to the National Gallery there. The Getty today announced it has acquired -- for the proverbial undisclosed sum -- the 1617 "Wilderness With the Temptation of St. Anthony" by Flemish master Roelandt Savery (1576-1639). The Getty didn't mention the National Gallery connection -- as of today the painting is still listed on the London museum's website -- but confirmed it's the same work. (It had been in the private collection of Brian and Esther Pilkington.) The acquisition has taken nearly two years to complete.

Savery was part of a Dutch family of artists, Flemish by birth, who worked for Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Rudolf sent him into the Tyrol to draw the natural wonders he found there, and about a decade later, long after Savery had returned to Amsterdam and Utrecht, those drawings were used to make the St. Anthony painting. (There aren't many mountains and waterfalls, never mind Alpine forests, in the Dutch lowlands.) The painting -- about 19-by-37 inches -- is among Savery's most acclaimed.

The hermit saint sits inside his cave at the left, oblivious to the worldly wonders just beyond the door, while his confining home contrasts sharply with the plunging vista Savery depicts at the opposite side of the panel. You can see it for yourself next week, when the picture goes on public view in Brentwood. *UPDATE: The Getty Museum has postponed the painting's Brentwood debut to sometime in Winter 2009.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: "Wilderness With the Temptation of St. Anthony." Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles