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Sotheby’s to sell one of J.M.W Turner’s greatest masterpieces


One of the finest paintings by J.M.W Turner still remaining in private hands will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s later this year.
Turner’s 1835 masterpiece ‘Ehrenbreitstein’, depicting a ruined German fortress near Coblenz, will lead a sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London.

The large-scale work was one of five that Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835, and is the only one remaining in private hands, with the others owned by institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the V&A Museum in London.

It was also the most acclaimed of the five paintings, earning praise from the public and critics alike.

The Times praised "the force of colour and the admirable harmony of tone [which] are not to be equalled by any living artist", and The Spectator called the painting "a splendid tribute of genius to one of the champions of freedom".

"Turner is one of those seminal figures who changed the way we see and think about the world," said Julian Gascoigne, senior specialist in British Paintings at Sotheby’s.

"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.

"These late works in particular, with their bold application of colour, treatment of light and deconstruction of form, revolutionised the way we perceive the painted image."

The work was originally commissioned by publisher John Pye, to be used as the basis for an engraving from which large prints could be produced.

However, Pye was expecting a much smaller watercolour, rather than the huge canvas he was presented with, and it took 11 years to complete the highly complex engraving.

The painting was then acquired by Elhanan Bicknell, one of Turner’s greatest patrons who owned seven of his large-scale masterpieces, and remained in his collection until his death in 1863.

‘Ehrenbreitstein’ has appeared on the open market just three times in its entire history – most recently in 1965, when it sold for £88,000, setting a new world record for Turner painting.

It will now cross the auction block for the first time in more than 50 years with an estimate of £15 – £25 million ($18.7 – $31.2m).

The current record for a work by J.M.W Turner was set in 2014, when his painting ‘Rome, from Mount Aventine’ (also created in 1835) sold at Sotheby’s in London for £30,322,500 ($47.6m).

That painting was also initially offered with an estimate of £15 – £20 million, and experts believe ‘Ehrenbreitstein’ could be set to surpass that auction record when it comes up for sale in London on July 5.


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