Ashmolean launches campaign to acquire Turner masterpiece

The High Street, Oxford has been on loan to the museum since 1997, and has now been offered to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax.

Today the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford launched a public campaign to raise £60,000 needed to secure JMW Turner's The High Street, Oxford. The painting would settle £3.5m of inheritance tax, which is more than the tax liable on the estate, so now the museum must raise the difference, £860,000, to acquire the work.

Over 90% of this sum has been secured thanks to support from the Art Fund (£220,000), the Heritage Lottery Fund (£550,000) and Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean (£30,000), leaving a gap of £60,000.

The High Street, Oxford is a unique work – the only townscape that Turner ever painted in oils, though the artist completed over 30 watercolours of Oxford during his lifetime. It was commissioned by Oxford printseller James Wyatt; after it was completed in March 1810, it was exhibited in Wyatt’s shop, at Turner’s own gallery and, in 1812, at the Royal Academy. In the 1830s, when Turner was choosing views of Oxford for a series of watercolours, he decided not to depict the High Street, because he felt that he could not repeat the technical mastery of his 1810 painting.

Over the summer, the Ashmolean is running a series of events to engage art lovers with the painting – including a photography competition, My View of Oxford, which will encourage personal responses to the work.

Dr Alexander Sturgis, director of the Ashmolean, said: 'The importance of keeping this beautiful painting in Oxford cannot be overstated. High Street, Oxford is the young Turner’s most significant townscape and the greatest painting of the city that has ever been made. We are profoundly grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and our patrons who have already shown their support for this campaign. If the Ashmolean does not acquire the painting, it will be sold on the open market. All major oil paintings by Turner that have been offered at auction in recent years have been bought by foreign buyers.'

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, says: 'This most important picture simply must be saved by the Ashmolean: we’re pleased to have supported the campaign substantially ourselves and fervently hope that anyone else who loves Turner, Oxford and the Ashmolean, will now do the same.'

Find out more and donate to the appeal.

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