National treasure to be sold at auction

IT is an heirloom and a national treasure which last changed hands when Downing Street was home to Benjamin Disraeli.

Rome, from Mount Aventine expected to sell for £15m-20m. Picture: Contributed
Rome, from Mount Aventine expected to sell for £15m-20m. Picture: Contributed

Now, a lauded masterpiece by one of Britain’s foremost landscape artists which has been admired by millions of Scots in the National Gallery of Scotland is to be sold off by a West Lothian family to help maintain their ancestral seat.

‘Rome, from Mount Aventine’, is regarded as “one of the very finest” of a handful of works by Turner remaining in private hands, prized for its evocative brushstrokes and flawless condition.

The atmospheric depiction of the Italian capital has been a cherished possession of four generations of the Rosebery family since 1878, when it was acquired by Archibald Primrose, a future Liberal prime minister, for the prudent sum of £6,142.

But for only the second time in its history, the painting will be sold later this year at Sotheby’s, where is expected to achieve a price of up to £20m, throwing uncertainty over whether it will ever again be exhibited in public.

The landscape was given to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1978 on a long loan, when it was given pride of place on the gallery’s main floor. It also formed a centrepiece of the popular Turner in Italy show in 2008 and 2009.

However, Turner’s work was taken down earlier this year ahead of the auction, where there is every chance it could exceed the Sotheby’s estimate.

The Roseberys secured a record price when they sold the painting’s companion work, ‘Modern Rome - Campo Vaccanio’, in 2010. With an upper estimate of £18m, it was eventually acquired for a staggering £29.7m by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Ahead of the new sale, the family, from Dalmeny, said they hoped the ”magnificent” picture would “bring as much joy” to its new owners as it had to them, adding that the proceeds of the sale would be put to more practical uses.

In a statement, the family said: “During the first hundred years we owned this picture, it hung alongside its sister picture of Modern Rome in pride of place in our homes - first in London and later at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire.

“For the last forty years or so, the painting has been on loan to major museums, and we have drawn much pleasure from knowing that so many people have had the opportunity to see and enjoy it.

They added: “Now, in order to maintain the estates for which we are responsible, and to safeguard their future, we have made the decision to sell it. We dearly hope that this magnificent picture will bring as much joy to its new owners as it has both to us and to the public over so many years.”

With hairs from Turner’s paintbrush still visible on the canvas and drips of paint specked along its bottom edges, experts say the sale of ‘the panorama represents a “rare and exciting” opportunity to acquire a seminal work in British art history.

Alex Bell, co-chair of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department, said: “There are fewer than ten major Turners in private hands known today and this work must rank as one of the very finest.

“This painting, which is nearly 200 years old, looks today as if it has come straight from the easel of the artist; never relined and never subject to restoration, the picture retains the freshness of the moment it was painted: the hairs from Turner’s brush, the drips of liquid paint which have run down the edge of the canvas, and every scrape of his palette knife have been preserved in incredible detail.”

Commissioned by Turner’s patron, Hugh Munro of Novar, in 1828, the painting took seven years to complete, with the artist visiting the city and carrying out numerous detailed studies so as to capture the Tiber coursing through the Eternal City.

When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836, critics universally agreed that Turner had excelled himself. The Morning Post wrote: “This is one of those amazing pictures by which Mr Turner dazzles the imagination and confounds all criticism: it is beyond praise.”

‘Rome, from Mount Aventine’ will be sold at the Sotheby’s Old Master and British paintings sale on 3 December. It has an estimate of £15m to £20m.