Bid to save Turner’s Thames view

The government has mounted a campaign to save J M W Turner’s painting Walton Bridgesfor the nation by placing an export stop on it.

The painting, believed to have been made in 1806 in the earlier part of his career and thought to be one of his first to painted on the open air, was sold at auction in July for £3.4m.

The painting shows the double-span bridge that ran across the River Thames between the locks at Sunbury and Shepperton in Surrey, built in 1788 to replace the wooden structure Canaletto had depicted in the mid-18thcentury.

It has had several owners, and between 1997 and 2017 was on loan by the then owner Lord Wantage to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

“This beautiful evocation of the unusual and picturesque double bridge crossing the Thames by the market town of Walton was made at a time when Turner was mostly living at nearby Isleworth rather than in London. At that time, around 1806, Turner was frequently sketching in oil, watercolour or pencil from a boat which he rowed along this stretch of the Thames” said Lowell Libson, a member of the exports reviewing committee on works of art. “This calm elegiac painting of gentle water-bound commerce and agricultural activity would have contrasted greatly with the turmoil in Continental Europe during this phase of the Napoleonic Wars. It is the absolute antithesis of his ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ (Tate Britain) which was painted at the same time. This is a superb example of Turner’s work from the early years of his success and fame.” 

A stop was put on its export by arts minister Michael Ellis until the end of February, but this may be extended if there is a serious possibility of a public collection being able to raise the money to acquire it.  “Turner is one of Britain’s greatest ever artists, whose studies of British life still resonate with the public today. Walton Bridgesis a wonderful example of his distinctive style and his fascination with the landscapes of 19thcentury Britain” he said.

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