A Turner for East Anglia

In 2018, Sotheby’s in London sold the painting ‘Walton Bridges’ by J M W Turner to an overseas private buyer. According to the Arts Council, once certain cultural goods reach or exceed specific age and monetary value thresholds, the goods require an individual licence for export out of the UK.

‘Walton Bridges’ was painted by Turner in 1806 and as such is considered a significant early Turner work. It is now also worth Ā£3.4 million thus meeting the requirements for an Export Stop, a pause in the granting of an export licence. This became the point at which the process of fundraising to save the painting for the nation began. In 2019, with considerable funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Art Fund and a private donor, the painting was purchased for the country. And, as none of the public museum collections of Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk held a Turner for public display, it was decided that ‘Walton Bridges’ would have a new home at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. East Anglia would at last have a Turner.

‘Walton Bridges’ by J M W Turner (23 April 1775 ā€“ 19 December 1851). Oil on canvas. H 92.7 x W 123.8 cm. 1806.

As is the way these days, there are loans and sharing between museums across a region and as part of this practice ‘Walton Bridges’ has so far been shown at Colchester Castle Museum and Lynn Museum. It is currently at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, as part of the ‘Landscape Rebels’ exhibition and will eventually return to Norwich in 2023.

Close up detail showing activity on the River Thames from Turner’s ‘Walton Bridges’.

The exhibition ‘Landscape Rebels’ explores how human activity impacts landscapes and has split the exhibition into different categories of rebels. These include Nature Rebels, Art Rebels, Coastal Rebels, Global Rebels, Local Rebels and Material Rebels. Naturally, ‘Walton Bridges’ is part of the Art Rebels section as Turner’s works are known for challenging how landscapes and seascapes were traditionally depicted particularly with his painterly expression of light. His painting of this particular Thames crossing is complemented in the exhibition with a loan from the National Gallery, London, of Claude Monet’s ‘The Thames Below Westminster’, painted in 1871.

‘The Thames Below Westminster’ Claude Monet (14 November 1840- 5 December 1926). Oil on canvas. H 47 x W 73 cm. 1871

It isn’t just that both these paintings feature the River Thames, but Monet too was an artist who offered a new, different way of seeing and can also be considered an Art Rebel. I thought it was fascinating to see these two paintings side by side and up close as well. To stand before the work of two artists, a couple of generations apart, but both 31 years old at the time they painted these pictures, was fascinating. They both challenged the received conventions of their time and rebelled.

Closer photo showing the silhouetted people on the jetty stark against the soft light of the misty background.

And, finally if you were wondering about the header photo, it’s another river, not the Thames, but the River Orwell shrouded in mist. I wonder what Turner and Monet would have made of the digital revolution and today’s pictures taken on mobile phones? Detail, colour, mood all achieved instantly, momentarily assessed, perhaps saved and shared, but just as likely to be instantly deleted.


Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

13 thoughts on “A Turner for East Anglia”

  1. He got himself about, that Turner fellow. In fact he did some sketches in the next village along from here, featuring – you guessed it – the River Ure. Norwich seems to have bagged a beauty. They’ll probably try to put a Turner exhibition together to place it in context. One can but hope!

    1. I expect they will when it goes back to the Castle permanently not least as they will no doubt make much of John Sell Cotman’s admiration and links with Turner including painting similar contemporary Yorkshire scenes.

  2. Yes, there’s so much about seeing a painting in a particular show, next to another specific painting and then being so close to just flick ones eye left and right and make direct and immediate comparisons. A real treat.

    1. Yes, Margate’s loss was our gain. Actually, Margate is on my list to get to visit. I’d like to start a trip to Kent with the Turner Contemporary, then on to Dickens’ House at Broadstairs, perhaps head on down to Dungeness to see Derek Jarman’s coastal garden and finish off with Great Dixter. Yes, I really, really must seriously plan that.

      1. Yes, I remembered you had family connections in Kent. Dickens got all over the place didn’t he? He even came to Ipswich in 1834 and apparently stayed at the Great White Horse Hotel in Tavern Street. The hotel was made famous by being featured in The Pickwick Papers, it just about survived the wrecking ball in 1967, but sadly is now limping on as a rather rundown hotel with the entire front ground floor boarded up despite its position on the main shopping street.

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