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Getty's prized purchase to stay in England -- at least for now

November 3, 2010 |  2:09 pm

Modern-Rome The J. Paul Getty Trust is being told once more that its money -– this time $44.9 million -- may be no good in Great Britain, where authorities have blocked the sale of a prized landscape painting of Rome by J.M.W. Turner that the Getty appeared to have bought in a July auction.

Britain’s culture minister, Ed Vaizy, announced Wednesday that the required export license for “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino,” which Turner painted in 1839, will be held up through Feb. 2, and potentially until Aug. 1, to give potential buyers who want to keep the painting on British soil a chance to match the Getty’s bid.

Art advisors to the British government said the Turner –- described in the Sotheby's auction catalog as “a dreamlike vista” -- is “so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune.”

The Getty had bid for the Turner knowing that the sale could be negated, as happened in 2004, when the National Gallery of London was able to match the $46.6 million price the Getty had agreed to pay  to buy Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks” from the Duke of Northumberland. In 2005, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge balked the Getty’s bid to acquire the Macclesfield Psalter, a medieval illustrated manuscript, for $3.2 million.

“We anticipated there would be a decision to delay the export license,” David Bomford, the Getty Museum’s acting director, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “We greatly respect the export process in the U.K. and look forward to the possibility of having this masterpiece in our collection.”

In a 2005 commentary for The Times, James Fenton, a trustee of the National Gallery of London, noted after the failed bids for the Psalter and the Raphael, that “it makes sense for the Getty to have a go at bidding for the probably unobtainable, on the principle that you never know your luck.”

-- Mike Boehm

Image: "Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino" by J.M.W. Turner. Credit: Sotheby's