Scots family to sell Turner’s Rome to save home

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

Joseph Turners masterpiece, Rome, from Mount Aventine, which is to go on sale for only the second time in 200 years. Picture: Getty
Joseph Turners masterpiece, Rome, from Mount Aventine, which is to go on sale for only the second time in 200 years. Picture: Getty

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 an artistocratic 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 Joseph Turner remaining in private hands, and 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.

Lord and Lady Rosebery own the picture. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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

The landscape was offered to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1978 on a long loan, and commanded 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.

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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 £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 100 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 40 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.

“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.

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“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 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 Hugh Munro of Novar the painting took seven years to complete, with the artist visiting the city to capture the Tiber coursing through the Eternal City.