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Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap by Jacopo Pontormo. Photograph: DCMS Press Office

LONDON (AFP).- A US hedge fund chief has refused to sell a Renaissance masterpiece painting to Britain's National Gallery after the Brexit vote sent the pound tumbling. 

The iconic London museum had met the £30 million asking price agreed in a 2015 deal with James Tomilson Hill III, chief executive of the Blackstone Alternative Asset Group, for Jacopo Pontormo's "Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap". 

But Tomilson Hill now argues that the pound's weakness against the dollar would leave him with a "material loss". 

The work depicts a young aristocrat, Carlo Neroni, holding a love letter in one hand, the other hovering over his sword as he prepares to defend the Florentine republic from the armies of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V. 

The 1530 painting was previously owned by the family of the Third Earl of Caledon, who bought it in 1825. It was loaned to the National Gallery after being rediscovered in 2008. 

Hill stepped in and bought the work in 2015 but was unable to take it back to the United States after Britain's culture department put a temporary block on its export in December 2015, ruling it was of "national importance". 

Hill agreed with the Export Reviewing Committee to sell the painting to the National Gallery for £30,618,987, the sterling equivalent of the amount he paid, in dollars, for the work in 2015. 

But he has changed his mind in the wake of Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union, which slashed the value of sterling against the dollar by 18 percent. 

"Mr Hill has declined to accept the National Gallery's offer to purchase the Pontormo, given the offer would have resulted in a material loss," his spokesperson told The Art Newspaper. 

The British government is unlikely to grant Hill an export licence, meaning he would have to keep the painting in the UK. 

© Agence France-Presse