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Rare, late work by J.M.W. Turner to highlight Sotheby's July Old Master Evening Sale
J.M.W. Turner, Landscape with Walton Bridges. Estimate: £4-6 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- A rare, late work by Britain’s favourite artist, J.M.W. Turner, will be unveiled in Moscow today ahead of its sale at Sotheby’s Old Master Evening Sale on 3 July. One of an important group of works painted by the artist in the last ten years of his life, Landscape with Walton Bridges, comes to the market for the first time in over 35 years with an estimate of £3-4 million.

One of the preeminent figures that mark the pages of history – like da Vinci, Darwin, Picasso or Einstein – who changed the way we see and think about the world, Turner is an artist rooted in the aesthetic philosophy and culture of his time. Perpetually engaged with the art of both his predecessors and contemporaries, he was at the same time possibly the first ‘modern’ painter; who directly inspired the Impressionism of the nineteenth century, and presaged the Abstract Expressionism of the twentieth.

Seemingly inspired by a sense of sheer delight in the working of paint, Turner’s visionary, experimental late works produced from the 1830s until his death in 1851 are considered to be the artist’s supreme achievement, and the pictures upon which his artistic significance ultimately rest. Essentially explorations of the effects of light, Turner created the works for himself, rather than for exhibition or for sale, retaining them for the development of his art. With their bold application of colour, their treatment of light and their deconstruction of form, these late works revolutionised the way the painted image was perceived. Applying the techniques he perfected in watercolour to the use of oil, with successive layering of translucent colour thinly applied to the surface, which imbue his canvases with a rich, hazy light, Turner gave his works a potency and power that had never been achieved before, and has seldom since.

This series of late works was inspired by compositions found in the Liber Studiorum, the series of engraved views Turner had published earlier in his career, around 1810-11. The central motif - Walton Bridges - is also one that the artist had treated twice before in oils, in 1806 and 1807. Clearly a subject with significant meaning to him, in this work he sets the bridge in an idealised, Italianate landscape of his own imagining.

Julian Gascoigne, Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings specialist commented: “This spectacular series of late oil paintings, in which Turner fondly revisits and reworks motifs long cherished in his mind, show a great artist late in his career, with his reputation established and his financial needs met, freed from the demands of public exhibition and the constraints of his critics. Vigorously and freely painted, with an emphasis on colour and light, rather than structure and form, he is exploring the possibilities of his medium and painting for himself, not for public consumption. Nearly two centuries later, however, seen through the lens of the Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism that would follow in the 19th and 20th centuries, we recognise them as the first seeds of an idea, from which would be born modern art.”

One of a very small handful of late works to ever have left Turner’s studio, and therefore not included in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain, Landscape with Walton Bridges was given to his landlady and partner in later life, Sophia Booth, with whom the artist had lived in Margate and London during the last years of his life. The work is now the only one of this group of ten or so proto impressionist late pictures inspired by the Liber Studiorum left in private hands.

In 1887 the painting was acquired by the great American financier and collector Junius Spencer Morgan and spent the next hundred years as one of the jewels in the crown of the celebrated Morgan Collection in New York.

Landscape with Walton Bridges is unveiled today in Moscow alongside Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap (estimate: £1.5 – 2 million) and Gerrit Dou’s The Penitent Magdalene (estimate £800,000 – 1.2 million) from Sotheby’s Old Master Evening Sale on 3 July, and works from the forthcoming Russian Paintings sale in London on 5 June and the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale in New York on 15 May.

Landscape with Walton Bridges will also be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York (18 – 21 May) and Sotheby’s Hong Kong (28 – 30 May).

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