London Lantern

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Turner's Pope's Villa at Twickenham at Sotheby's

19/06/2008, By

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Sotheby's is offering for sale 'Pope's Villa at Twickenham', a masterpiece by Britain's most celebrated artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A., (1775-1851), in its Evening Sale of Old Master Paintings in London on Wednesday, July 9th. This exceptional landscape - executed in oil - is among Turner's most important works to appear on the market in living memory and since its exhibition at Turner's gallery in 1808, it has made only one appearance on the open market, in 1827. Having been part of a distinguished private family collection for some 181 years, the painting is one of only a handful of major works by Turner that has remained in private hands. It is estimated at £5 to 7 million.

As the title suggests, Pope’s Villa at Twickenham depicts the home of one of Turner’s favourite sources of poetic inspiration, that of Alexander Pope. The painting, which captures the then scandalous rebuilding of the great English poet’s villa on the banks of the River Thames at Twickenham, clearly had a great deal of personal meaning to Turner; not only did it highlight his passion for the Twickenham stretch of the River Thames, which was close to where he lived at the time, but it also expressed his need for tranquillity and his desire to escape the activity of London and the news and chaos surrounding the continuation of the Napoleonic Wars. Undertaken shortly after the artist’s elected appointment at the Royal Academy as Professor of Perspective in 1807, it is thought to be the first work that he signed with the additional ‘PP’ after his signature.

Turner revolutionised the art of landscape painting and when he first exhibited his rendering of Pope’s villa at his Harley Street gallery in 1808, it was extolled in the highest possible manner. The eminent British portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence acknowledged him as “undisputedly the first landscape painter in Europe” while his contemporary, John Landseer, commented “the painter has chosen to represent, and has represented with unprecedented success, the poetic hour of pensive feeling on a tranquil autumnal evening. We scarcely remember any picture that more powerfully imparts its prevailing tone of tranquillity”. Pope’s Villa at Twickenham was one of only 12 paintings on view at the exhibition in Harley Street; these other works are all in public collections today. Since its first showing in 1808, Pope’s Villa at Twickenham has featured in a vast body of the literature on the artist and has been shown at numerous locations around the world, most recently it was a highlight in the momentous Turner exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in the autumn of last year.

Purchased in 1827 by James Morrison (1789-1857) and passed down through successive generations of his family, Pope’s Villa at Twickenham is now being sold by the Trustees of the late G.M. Dent-Brocklehurst to raise funds to facilitate the ongoing investment in and development of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where the painting has hung as part of the Walter Morrison Picture Collection for approximately 40 years. During its time at the Castle – and as one of the jewels of the Walter Morrison collection – the painting has been enjoyed by the thousands of people who have visited the historic castle and its grounds.

James Morrison was one of a new breed of entrepreneurs in 19th century England and with his passion and knowledge of the arts he built up an important collection of paintings which included The Lock by John Constable, which was sold at Sotheby’s in 1990 for £10.8 million. As a principal supporter of The National Gallery in London, Morrison developed a close friendship with Turner at a time when the artist was described in an 1845 edition of Burlington Magazine as “the greatest living genius, not only in England, but in the world, and whose genius is such that it might not be equalled”. Morrison acquired Pope’s Villa at Twickenham from Sir John Fleming Leicester, the 1st Baron de Tabley (1762-1827) and great patron of British art, who had purchased the painting from Turner’s gallery in 1808.

Following Morrison’s death in 1857, his residence - Basildon Park - along with its contents were inherited by his eldest son, Charles. Upon Charles’ death in 1909, the estate passed to James’ younger son Walter, who subsequently bequeathed the property to his nephew, Colonel James Archibald Morrison (1873-1943), who sold Basildon Park in 1929. The collection was then passed down via the descendants of the younger James Morrison’s daughter Mary, who married Major John Dent-Brocklehurst of Sudeley Castle - a descendant of Henry VII - in 1924. It was Mary Dent-Brocklehurst who brought the Walter Morrison Picture Collection of Dutch and English Old Masters to the Castle, where it has been on view to the public.

Commenting on the sale, Emmeline Hallmark, Head of British Paintings at Sotheby’s said: “Since Turner first exhibited Pope’s Villa at Twickenham in 1808, this exceptional landscape painting of the River Thames has been used to illustrate the artist’s revolutionary approach to landscape painting and it has delighted successive audiences, most recently at the widely acclaimed exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. With its golden hues, hidden details and radiant light, we expect this atmospheric, symbolic and masterfully painted river landscape to generate huge excitement and interest when it goes under the hammer in July.”

The offering of Pope’s Villa at Twickenham comes hot on the heels of a succession of Turner successes at Sotheby’s in 2007. The Ullens Collection was one of the finest groups of privately-owned Turner watercolours to ever come to the market and its sale in July last year raised a combined total of £10.7 million and saw the artist’s Lungernzee realise £3.6 million. This was followed by the sale of Turner’s watercolour Bamborough Castle for £2.9 million in December 2007.

Wednesday July 9th
Sotheby's
34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA
+44 (0)20 7293 5000

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