J.M.W. Turner (1775-1881) – Ehrenbreitstein
One of the greatest works by J.M.W. Turner still in private hands comes up at Sotheby’s in July. Ehrenbreitstein is the most important oil of a German subject that Turner ever painted. It depicts the ruined fortress of Ehrenbreitstein near Coblenz – a place of special significance for the artist. Painted in 1835 this late work is from a period widely considered Turner’s best. Other works from this time now hang in the world’s greatest museums, with only a minute number of this importance and quality remaining in private ownership. The subject of enormous critical acclaim when it was first exhibited in 1835. It comes up in London on July 5 with an estimate of £15-25 million.
Major works of such quality by Turner are rare on the international market. The last example to be offered (Rome, from Mount Aventine, painted in the same year as Ehrenbreitstein and offered at Sotheby’s in 2014) made a record £30.3 million. This was the highest price achieved for any British-born artist at auction, and placed Turner alongside Rubens and Raphael as one of just three artists from the pre-Impressionist era to have achieved prices at this level.
Alex Bell, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s International Old Masters Department, said: “This painting was one of five that Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835; the other four of which are now in some of the most distinguished institutions in the world. Of those five paintings, it was Ehrenbreitstein that caught the imagination of public and critics alike – and it’s easy to see why. Its extraordinary range and depth of colour, and typically inspired and imaginative use of light, would in any case mark this painting out as a masterpiece, but its true greatness lies in the way Turner applies his painterly genius to transform the ruins of the famous fortress into a poetic and symbolic image as resonant then as it is today.“
Of the other four paintings exhibited by Turner in that year one is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, one is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and one is in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.
(See post on antiquesandartireland.com for September 8, 2014)