Early JMW Turner oil painting saved for the nation

  • 10 July 2019

With support from Art Fund, a significant early work by JMW Turner will join the collection of Norfolk Museums Service and go on permanent display at Norwich Castle.

JMW Turner, Walton Bridges,1806 © Norfolk Museums Service

JMW Turner, Walton Bridges,1806

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© Norfolk Museums Service

An early work by JMW Turner has been acquired by Norfolk Museums Service and will tour across the East Anglia region after being saved for the nation.

Walton Bridges, sold at auction at Sotheby’s in July 2018, had been subject to a temporary export deferral in recognition of its immense cultural significance to the country. Major grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund mean that this important early Turner will now enter public ownership.

It is the first Turner oil to enter a public collection in the east of England – specifically Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex – where it will join an important collection of British landscape paintings by artists such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, and the artists of the Norwich School, including John Sell Cotman and John Crome, who were strongly influenced by Turner.

Walton Bridges dates from 1806 and is believed to be the first oil by Turner to be painted in the open air, a practice which was to become an important element of his work. Depicting a bridge that ran across the Thames in Surrey, its contrasting of a rural scene and the modern structure of the bridge indicates the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The painting will be displayed first at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from September 2019 and will then go on tour around East Anglia with exhibitions planned at Kings Lynn, Ipswich, Colchester and Great Yarmouth over the next three years. Norfolk Museums Service has partnered with Colchester and Ipswich Museums to create a four-year programme of exhibitions, learning and public engagement across the region. In 2023 the painting will go back on permanent display at Norwich Castle.

Arts Minister Rebecca Pow said: 'Turner's magnificent work, painted at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, will now continue to be exhibited and admired and will inspire future generations of British artists thanks to Norfolk Museums Service. I am delighted that the export bar placed on the painting allowed time for the painting to be saved for the nation, and I congratulate all those involved.'

Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar said: 'This is a landmark work representing a pivotal moment in the career of one of Britain’s most celebrated landscape artists. We are immensely proud to have helped save this important work – the first Turner to join a collection in the east of England, where it will now be enjoyed by a wide public from Norfolk, the UK and beyond.'