Triumph at auction as Plymouth acquires Turner watercolour

  • 5 December 2006

The Art Fund has helped Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery to purchase a watercolour of Plymouth by JMW Turner. Plymouth, from Mount Edgcumbe is the first watercolour of the area by Turner to enter the Museum's collection.

The watercolour was purchased at Sotheby’s for a hammer price of £80,000, with a £30,112 grant from The Art Fund. Additional funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Plymouth, from Mount Edgcumbe (1814) is one of the best known in a series of Plymouth scenes which Turner produced for the publication, Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast. The subject of the watercolour is a lively social gathering on Mount Edgcumbe. A group of smartly dressed ladies and gentlemen and sailors dance and wave in celebration at a major fleet of ships before them, anchored in the Docks at Devonport.

As well as containing a wealth of local detail, the watercolour records an important period in Plymouth’s history. During the Napoleonic Wars the town had been highly vulnerable to a possible French attack and the threat of invasion. This threat finally diminished with the abdication of the Emperor Napoleon, and a period of triumphant celebration followed. Turner’s animated watercolour seems to capture this victorious mood.

JMW Turner (1775-1851) spoke highly of the natural beauty of Plymouth and the surrounding countryside, and visited the town on three occasions in 1811, 1813 and 1814. During his stay in 1813 he was in the area for three weeks, and made several trips to Mount Edgcumbe. The series of sketches and watercolours he produced in Plymouth had an enormous influence on local and visiting artists, and Plymouth, from Mount Edgcumbe became one of the best known.

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Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery