J.M.W. TURNER (1775-1851)
See also : Watercolor by Turner George I-III George IV to Victoria UK II Music in old painting Cities Venice
Chronology : 1800-1809 1810-1819 1830-1839 1840-1849
1808 Pope's Villa at Twickenham
2008 SOLD for £ 5.4M by Sotheby's
Turner wants to express the deep truth of nature. He explores the Thames and buys a piece of land at Twickenham in 1807. He builds there from 1812 his personal lodge according to his own taste.
A century earlier, Twickenham was the home of wealthy Londoners who wanted to escape the city. In 1719 the poet Alexander Pope had built an opulent three-story house on the banks of the Thames, and his garden was designed to shelter the Muses.
Baroness Howe of Langar bought this estate in 1807. The memory of Pope was still attracting many visitors. To protect her peace of living, she has the villa destroyed. Of course Turner is deeply frustrated and irritated by this decision which diminishes the touristic attraction of this village which he had just chosen for himself.
The view of the Pope villa by Turner is an oil on canvas 92 x 120 cm painted in 1808. Already aiming to match the brightness of the watercolors, he had coated the canvas with a white primer.
The scene is pastoral, with small quiet figures, a young couple of shepherds, a few sheep, in the beautiful light of an autumn evening. Beyond the river, the building is the symbol of the ephemeral character of human achievements : it has already lost its roof and the windows are gaping.
He exhibited it in his gallery in London, which he has been using since 1804 to attract customers and art critics. The success of this work which expresses a poetic sensitivity with a high quality of execution is considerable. At 33, he is the best landscape painter of his time.
This painting was sold for £ 5.4M by Sotheby's on July 9, 2008. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1808 Thames Estuary
2021 SOLD for £ 4.8M by Sotheby's
The Thames estuary is a few miles downstream his home. In 1806 his Victory returning from Trafalgar is staged in a quiet sea. From 1807 to 1809 he executes seven paintings on the estuary under the storm, viewed in various locations of the shore.
On July 7, 2021, Sotheby's sold for £ 4.8M an oil on canvas 90 x 120 cm painted in 1808, lot 50. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's. It is located at Purfleet with the Essex shore as seen from Long Reach. This painting had been immediately bought by the 5th earl of Essex who was an important patron of Turner at that time when he managed to become independent from the Royal Academy.
In a rough sea under a stormy sky, the boats ranging from fishing barges to warships are cleverly dispositioned from foreground to horizon, providing a fair rendition of distance.
#AuctionUpdate: J.M.W. Turner’s magnificent early seascape - Purfleet and the Essex Shore as seen from Long Reach - achieves £4.8m in its first appearance on the market in over 75 years. Created in 1808, the work was the star lot of today’s #London Old Master Evening sale. pic.twitter.com/EKMVsjvcHS— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) July 7, 2021
1816 The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius Restored
2009 SOLD for $ 13M by Sotheby's
It is a temple of Jupiter Panellenius (ie friend of the Greeks). This painting is later (1816), but the composition is similar to that of 1808: an animated green leads to a remote monument, flooded with sunlight, which is the strong point of the image. The characters of the English villa were walkers. Those of the temple, dressed according to antique fashion, play a round dance.
Turner made only three paintings inspired by Greece. We must see the influence of the romantic come back to the antique (that at that time influenced also the cloth fashion) and not a political mood, as the movements that would lead to the independence of Greece were just beginning in 1816.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1835 from Mount Aventine
2014 SOLD for £ 30.3M by Sotheby's
Turner had a friend as difficult as himself in his temper : Hugh Munro of Novar. It was the time of the watercolorist travelers and Munro would have liked to become an artist. Turner tried to help him but the younger man was not skilled. He was to become one of the greatest art collectors of his time.
When Turner returned from Rome, Munro commissioned him with a painting on which the city was to be shown with the greatest topographic truth. Turner reinspected his drawings. The oil on canvas showing the view of Rome from Mount Aventine, 93 x 126 cm, was completed in 1835.
In the morning light, this view is a masterpiece from that period of great maturity of the artist. The blurring by mist above the Tiber is a pre-impressionist feat. The drawing of the urban texture is of high detail all over the huge extent of the city and the animation is nice.
This painting was sold for £ 30.3M from a lower estimate of £ 15M by Sotheby's on December 3, 2014, lot 44. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This work could be a pendant with a view from Capitoline hill purchased in 1839 by Munro. Passed in 1878 in the collection of the Earls of Rosebery, both paintings have remained in a fabulous condition. The view from the Capitol was sold by Sotheby's in 2010.
1839 from Capitoline Hill
2010 SOLD 29.7 M£ by Sotheby's
The artist has placed the easel of his memory at the top of Capitoline Hill. The city lies before him, fully bathed in a wonderful light that enhances the perspective. The foreground is animated with efficiency and discretion by goatherds and peasants.
Do not look for photographic truth in this image. According to the style of that time, the position of the buildings owes more to art than to reality. But it is no longer a capriccio, and ancient and pontifical monuments are finely drawn.
Such a masterpiece on the art market is by itself an event. Its exceptional condition makes it one the most important auction lots of the year. The painting has kept its original freshness and frame. It had previously appeared only once on the art market, in 1878. The Earl of Rosebery paid 4,450 guineas for it, on the occasion of his honeymoon.
It was sold by Sotheby's on July 7, 2010 for £ 29.7M from a lower estimate of £ 12M.
See below the video shared by Sotheby's and the image shared by Wikimedia :
2017 SOLD for £ 18.5M by Sotheby's
He is also a keen traveler. When touring all over Europe he deliberately walked in the fictional footsteps of Childe Harold, the disillusioned young man of Byron's poem who visited the sites wrought by wars to satisfy his need for freedom.
In 1835 Turner finishes his sublime view showing Rome from the Aventine, oil on canvas 93 x 126 cm. Extending to the oil the traditional technique of watercolor, the superposition of very thin layers of paint brings a transparency that simulates the sunny mist without weakening the details of the drawing. This painting was sold by Sotheby's in 2014.
The artist has reached an agreement for an image of Germany with the engraver John Pye after he had appreciated the quality of the effects of light in his prints. When he receives the promised work, Pye is frightened but it is too late to give up : Turner did not execute a watercolor but an oil on canvas of large size, 93 x 123 cm, with the same subtle hues as in the Roman view. Meeting the requirements of the patron is virtually impossible.
This painting is a view of Ehrenbreitstein, subtitled The Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau from Byron's Childe Harold. The ruined fortress of Ehrenbreitstein which still dominates Koblenz is a symbol of the vanity of the old wars. Marceau is that young French general killed at the age of 27 near Koblenz who had deserved such a reputation for chivalrous bravery that the two hostile armies participated together in his funeral.
Contrary to the Roman view, the view of Rhineland does not seek an overall topographical truth. It is a set of scenes where peasant girls cohabit peacefully with soldiers of both armies.
The painting was finished in 1835. Nine years later Turner became impatient with Pye who succeeded in convincing him that his work was not abandoned. The engraving was printed in 1845 under the pressure of a collector who wanted to buy the original painting to Turner.
The Ehrenbreitstein view was sold for £ 18.5M by Sotheby's on July 5, 2017, lot 21. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
2006 SOLD for $ 36M by Christie's
Turner had an unlimited confidence in the correctness of his vision. Annoyed by the posthumous influence of Bonington, he exhibited new views of Venice during the summer of 1833 at the Royal Academy, to serve as models of the expression of atmosphere and poetry in painting, without having seen again the City of the Doges. He made his second stay there at the end of the same year and finally considered including Venice in his regular work.
An identical sequence of events took place in 1840, with two views of Venice exhibited at the Royal Academy before his departure for his third and final visit, which lasted two weeks only. This time the ethereal charm of Venice has operated.
In the following years, Turner was making a distinction between the watercolor sketches and the views in larger format which he considered as his finished works, the only ones worthy of being exhibited and sold. His finished views of Switzerland are large watercolors and his finished views of Venice are oils on canvas.
Painted in his studio after his come back, the panoramic views of Venice deserved a larger format than the watercolors. In order not to lose anything in the luminosity and the freshness of the colors, he paints Venice in oil with the same pigments as his watercolors. The pre-impressionist atmosphere also suggests that he had transferred the wet in wet technique of his watercolors onto his canvases, before adding the more realistic narrative drawing of the gondolas.
On April 6, 2006, Christie's sold as lot 97 for $ 36M a view of the Giudecca with La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio. This oil on canvas 61 x 92 cm was prepared by Turner for the 1841 exhibition of the Royal Academy. As often with this artist, the perfection of the composition and the color balance prevail over the topographic reality.
1842 The Blue Rigi
2006 SOLD for £ 5.8M by Christie's
Back again in his workshop after his 1841 trip to Switzerland, he considers that the quality of his watercolors is worthy of his large format "finished" works, the only ones which he offers for sale. In 1842 he prepares fifteen 24 x 30 cm views of Lucerne and its surroundings for demonstrating the light effect to his clients, before copying each sketch in a larger 30 x 45 cm as a single unit. It is likely that this uniqueness enabled him to justify the very high price of these "finished" watercolors, 80 guineas each.
Three of these views show the Rigi beyond the Lake of Lucerne at different hours of the day. The mountain is dark before dawn, blue at sunrise and red at twilight. These pictures precede Monet's variations of light on the Poplars and on the Cathedral of Rouen by half a century, although Turner did not conceive them as a series.
The Blue Rigi is one of four "finished" watercolors that are available before inviting the customers. It is bought by the collector Bicknell, who had acquired a pre-impressionist oil on canvas of the Giudecca in the previous year.
The Blue Rigi was sold for £ 5.8M by Christie's on June 5, 2006, lot 53. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
To serve as a pendant, Bicknell had ordered one of the eleven works remaining to be produced, a view of the Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen which will be sold for £ 2.05M by Sotheby's on July 4, 2018. The choice of this collector was excellent : his oil on canvas from Venice referred above was sold for $ 36M by Christie's in 2006.
1845 Seaside at Folkestone
1984 SOLD for £ 7.4M by Sotheby's
mid 1840s The Bridge
2019 SOLD for £ 8.2M by Sotheby's
He admires the Liber Veritatis of Le Lorrain. A series of 71 images engraved between 1807 and 1819 under the title Liber Studiorum brings together Turner's landscape studies that can indeed be used by clients to commission "finished works".
Time passes. Turner is famous despite his eccentric temperament. His artistic creativity remains intact. He is aware that his art is unprecedented and decides to bequeath hundreds of pieces to the British nation. Eager for a posthumous recognition, he nevertheless flees his lifetime celebrity, spending his last years in Chelsea under the name of Mr Booth which was the surname of his companion Sophia.
In his later works the landscapes are literally wrapped in light, with a gradual vanishing of figurative details. He retrieves his dear old themes of the Liber Studiorum, which he reissues in 1845 in fifteen additional copies printed from the original plates under the influence of Ruskin.
The corpus of these late paintings made by Turner in direct relationship with the Liber includes nine large size artworks. Only one is still in private hands. This oil on canvas 88 x 118 cm was sold for £ 8.2M from a lower estimate of £ 4M by Sotheby's on July 3, 2019, lot 11.
This painting is inspired by an image of the Liber titled The Bridge in the Middle Distance. A confusion with the views of Italy, perhaps due to the light of the Venice views painted after his 1840 trip, has long masked the topographical theme of this image, the double Walton Bridge on the Thames, one of his favorite sites. The landscapes of J.M.W. Turner are universal.