LONDON.-Culture Minister, Barbara Follett, has placed a temporary export bar on a painting by J M W Turner - Popes Villa at Twickenham. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom.
The Ministers ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune. It was also deemed to be of outstanding significance for the study of the connections between painting and poetry, and of the history of the preservation of our national heritage.
The painting, made in 1808, documents Turners admiration for the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and the distress he felt at the destruction of Popes villa. The villa, on the banks of the River Thames at Twickenham, had been commissioned by Pope in 1719 using the proceeds from his translation of Homers Iliad, and he lived in it for a quarter of a century. Lady Howe, who owned the villa in the early nineteenth century, was so bothered by the tourists and admirers who still came to see it and its grounds that she had it demolished, for which act of vandalism she was widely reviled as Queen of the Goths. Turners outrage at the apparent disregard for the legacy of Popes memory is expressed in lines he wrote while working on the painting:
O Lost to honor and the sense of shame
Can Britain so forget Popes well-earnd fame
To desolation doom the poets fane
The pride of T[wickenhams] bower and silver Thame
The special qualities of this painting were recognised by Turners contemporaries from its first appearance, and it was considered to be among the best of British art at that time. That Turner himself valued the work is demonstrated by the fact that he allowed prints to be made from it. When it was engraved in 1811 for John Brittons Fine Arts of the English School, Turner suggested to the author that a note might be added as to the state of the grotto that grateful posterity from age to age may repair what remains. Turner was one of the first artists in this country to press for the preservation of the heritage. This painting is not just a memorial to Pope and his villa, but is also about the wider subject of the concept of our national heritage.
Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said: Although a work of high aesthetic quality, it is this literary association which makes Turners painting exceptional. Its call to prevent the senseless destruction of our heritage resonates down the centuries to our own time, and is as relevant now as it was then.
The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 9 February 2009 inclusive. This period may be extended until 9 June 2009 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £5,417,250 (excluding VAT) is expressed.
Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the owners agent through:
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council,
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queens Gate
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270