Turner painting belongs in the UK, says Culture Minister

10 December 2008

Culture Minister, Barbara Follett, has placed a temporary export bar on a painting by J M W Turner - Pope’s Villa at Twickenham. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the painting in the United Kingdom. 

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune. It was also deemed to be of outstanding significance for the study of the connections between painting and poetry, and of the history of the preservation of our national heritage.

The painting, made in 1808, documents Turner’s admiration for the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and the distress he felt at the destruction of Pope’s villa. The villa, on the banks of the River Thames at Twickenham, had been commissioned by Pope in 1719 using the proceeds from his translation of Homer’s Iliad, and he lived in it for a quarter of a century. Lady Howe, who owned the villa in the early nineteenth century, was so bothered by the tourists and admirers who still came to see it and its grounds that she had it demolished, for which act of vandalism she was widely reviled as ‘Queen of the Goths’. Turner’s outrage at the apparent disregard for the legacy of Pope’s memory is expressed in lines he wrote while working on the painting:

“O Lost to honor and the sense of shame
Can Britain so forget Pope’s well-earnd fame
To desolation doom the poet’s fane
The pride of T[wickenham’s] bower and silver Thame…”

The special qualities of this painting were recognised by Turner’s contemporaries from its first appearance, and it was considered to be among the best of British art at that time. That Turner himself valued the work is demonstrated by the fact that he allowed prints to be made from it.  When it was engraved in 1811 for John Britton’s Fine Arts of the English School,  Turner suggested to the author that a note might be added “as to the state of the grotto that grateful posterity from age to age may repair what remains.” Turner was one of the first artists in this country to press for the preservation of the heritage. This painting is not just a memorial to Pope and his villa, but is also about the wider subject of the concept of our national heritage.
Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said: “Although a work of high aesthetic quality, it is this literary association which makes Turner’s painting exceptional. Its call to prevent the senseless destruction of our heritage resonates down the centuries to our own time, and is as relevant now as it was then.”

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 9 February 2009 inclusive. This period may be extended until 9 June 2009 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £5,417,250 (excluding VAT) is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the painting should contact the owner’s agent through:
The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council,
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270


Notes to Editors

  1. Media enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) should  be directed to Senior Media Relations Adviser,  Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk

  2. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

  3. Pictures of this item are available. Please email sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk (MLA no longer subscribes to the PixMedia website service).

  4. Further details about the painting can be found in the auction catalogue at the Sotheby's website.

  5. The details of the painting are:

    Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
    Pope’s Villa at Twickenham 1808
    Oil on canvas
    91.5 x 120.6 cm
    signed ‘I M W Turner RA PP’ lower left

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