Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Would Spend £18 Million

J.M.W. Turner's Modern Rome: Campo Vaccino (1839), to be sold by Sotheby's in London on July 7.


Overview of the sale at

Sotheby's exquisite sale catalogue [PDF]

Update via The New York Times...

LONDON, July 8 — A world record was set for Turner on Wednesday night when a landscape, "Modern Rome. Campo Vaccino," was sold for £29.72 million, or $45 million. The large canvas, 90.2 by 122 centimeters (35 by 48 inches), was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles bidding through Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, the London dealers specializing in Old Masters and 19th century painting.

The panoramic view was done by the English painter from memory, without paying much attention to the many precise sketches that he had done in the course of his various trips to Rome. It is an impressionistic evocation of the city bathed in a golden sunset haze touched with salmon pink, and some liberties are taken with topography.

Very few Turners of this size and caliber remain in private hands — five or six at the most, according to David Moore-Gwyn, Sotheby’s distinguished expert in British painting. This one was acquired directly from the artist when it was included in the Royal Academy show of 1839. The buyer, Hugh A.J. Munro of Novar, was a close friend of the artist and the executor of his estate who oversaw the vast bequests made by his late friend to the National Gallery, which together with the Tate Gallery holds the largest collection of Turners in the world. “Modern Rome. Campo Vaccino” remained in Munro’s family until April 6, 1878, when his collection was dispersed at Christie’s London. It was then bought by Archibald, the fifth earl of Rosebery, and his wife Hannah (née Rothschild), for 4,450 guineas, a huge price at the time. The landscape remained in the hands of their descendants until a family trust consigned it this year to Sotheby’s.

The historical background of the picture, preserved unlined in its plaster gilt and glazed frame, played its part in the enormous interest aroused.

The price is in line with the previous record set when another large painting, a Venetian view of "Giudecca, la Donna della Salute and San Giorgio" appeared at Christie’s New York on April 6, 2006, where it fetched $35.85 million.

The likelihood of another Turner of remotely comparable importance coming up at auction in the near future is slim. While Wednesday’s picture cannot really compare with the greatest Turners in which the visible world is reduced to luminous impressions, now in the two London museums, a few professionals seemed disappointed that it had not gone for even more.

Awareness of a unique opportunity regarding the work of the greatest British painter of all times and of the urgency of acting there and then was evidently a factor in the wise decision of the Los Angeles museum’s board of trustees to go all out, despite the current mood favoring austerity and financial restraint.


Hermes said...

Absolutely gorgeous painting - but what about the Manet?

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