Important early painting by JMW Turner saved for the nation with major support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund
10 July 2019
An early masterpiece by Joseph Mallord William Turner, Walton Bridges, has been saved for the nation at the eleventh hour following major grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund. Norfolk Museums Service led on the fundraising, partnering with Colchester and Ipswich Museums to create a wide-ranging and imaginative four-year programme of exhibitions, learning and public engagement across the region.
The magnificent oil painting, sold at auction at Sotheby’s in July 2018, was subject to a temporary export deferral, in recognition of its immense cultural significance to the country.
Now thanks to generous and timely support in the form of major grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund, this important early Turner will enter public ownership where it can be enjoyed by generations to come.
The acquisition, highly unusual for a regional museum, is the first Turner oil to enter a public collection in the East of England – specifically Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex – where it will complement existing holdings of important British landscape paintings by the likes of John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, and the artists of the Norwich School, including John Sell Cotman and John Crome, for whom Turner was an important influence.
The fact that Walton Bridges, which dates from 1806, is believed to be the first oil by Turner to be painted in the open air – a practice which was to become an important element of his artistic approach – adds to its significance.
The painting will be displayed first at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from September 2019 and will then go on tour around the region with exhibitions planned at Kings Lynn, Ipswich, Colchester and Great Yarmouth over the next three years before the painting goes back on permanent display at Norwich Castle in 2023.
From its arrival in the region, the painting will be the focus of exciting learning programmes across the East of England curated by diverse groups from various communities, with young people a particular priority.
For Norfolk Museums Service, the painting will be an important focus of their Kick the Dust programme, a youth engagement initiative, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which aims to work with over 8,000 11-25 year olds who face barriers to participation in arts and heritage.
At Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, plans include a ‘Schools Month’, offering free day-long workshops to explore the Turner painting and experiment with art techniques, led by a local artist and projects with Suffolk Family Carers and Suffolk Family Focus, which is part of the Department for Work and Pension’s Troubled Families Initiative.
Councillor John Ward, Chairman of the Norfolk County Council Joint Museums Committee, says: “We are hugely grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund for supporting so generously our bid to save this remarkable painting for the nation. The campaign was also generously supported by a private donor. We believe we’re uniquely placed to share the story of Walton Bridges with the public: Turner’s influence on a number of artists associated with the region and represented in its collections, including John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and the artists of the Norwich School, make it a natural home for the painting. The partnership between Norfolk Museums Service and Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service will draw out these fascinating connections while an extensive community engagement programme will ensure as many people as possible have a meaningful encounter with this wonderful work.”
Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Norfolk County Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Partnerships, says: “This news is cause for celebration for everyone who cares about the cultural heritage of the nation. For the East of England the acquisition of Walton Bridges will make a significant contribution to the region’s cultural economy, bringing in many more visitors and raising its profile nationally. The presence of this ‘Turner for the East’ will encourage complementary loans from a range of institutions, enriching the cultural life of East Anglia for many decades to come. We look forward to working with Colchester and Ipswich Museums and other partners in the region to make the most of this exciting opportunity.”
Councillor Julie Young of Colchester Borough Council and Councillor Carole Jones of Ipswich Borough Council say, 'We are delighted to have played a part in saving this beautiful painting for the nation and are grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund for supporting the project. We look forward to working with our colleagues in Norfolk to bring the painting to large audiences throughout the East of England. It will have a catalysing effect on bringing attention to the other wonderful artworks on display in our museums in Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk.'
Arts Minister Rebecca Pow says: "Turner's magnificent work, painted at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, will now continue to be exhibited and admired and will inspire future generations of British artists thanks to Norfolk Museums Service. I am delighted that the export bar placed on the painting allowed time for the painting to be saved for the nation, and I congratulate all those involved."
Anne Jenkins, Director, England: Midlands & East, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, says: “Saving the wonderful Walton Bridges for the nation and providing the East of England with their first Turner to enter a public collection is an initiative we’re very proud to have funded. Thanks to £2.1m raised by National Lottery players, the people of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex will be able to enjoy this inspiring art work on their door step, as it tours around the region. It’s also fantastic news that the painting will be a focal point for Norfolk Museums Service’s National Lottery-funded Kick the Dust programme to break down barriers, and encourage thousands of young people between the ages of 11-25 in the area to engage further with arts and culture.”
Stephen Deuchar, Director of Art Fund, said: “This is a landmark work representing a pivotal moment in the career of one of Britain’s most celebrated landscape artists. We are immensely proud to have helped save this important work – the first Turner to join a collection in the east of England, where it will now be enjoyed by a wide public from Norfolk, the UK and beyond.”