JMW Turner - Dark Rigi.jpg
The 12 x 18in (30.5 x 45.5cm) watercolour 'Dark Rigi, the Lake of Lucerne' (1842) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851).

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The current owner of The Dark Rigi, the Lake of Lucerne by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) bought it in 2006 and recently an export licence has been applied for to take it overseas.

Arts minister Rebecca Pow said: “Turner is one of Britain’s greatest artists and The Dark Rigi is a beautiful and emotive work painted at the pinnacle of his career. This work is of national importance and if it were to go abroad it would be a terrible loss to the country.”

In 1802 Turner made the first of many visits to Europe during which he completed numerous preparatory sketches. The watercolour at risk of export was completed following Turner’s 1841 visit to Switzerland where he completed a number of studies of the Rigi mountain, and is part of a trio of famous works, The Red, The Blue and The Dark Rigi. Turner’s way of working, a serial approach to a single motif, was revolutionary and was later employed by artists such as Monet.

“Aesthetic importance”

The decision to temporarily bar the export of the picture follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA). The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the watercolour’s “outstanding aesthetic importance and its outstanding significance for the study of Turner’s landscapes, artistic practice and patronage”.  

RCEWA committee member Peter Barber said: “This breathtakingly beautiful view forms a part of perhaps the most outstanding series of watercolour masterpieces by Turner: those depicting the Rigi at different times of the day.  

“It is particularly important that this beautiful watercolour, which works on so many different levels, should be retained in this country.”

The decision on the export licence applications for the watercolour will be deferred until December 1 and could be extended until June 1, 2020, if a serious intention to raise funds is made.

Turner left behind more than 30,000 works on paper, 550 oil paintings and 2000 watercolours when he died. The work at risk of export is the only remaining work from the Rigi series not in a public collection. 

A number of Turner pictures have been barred from export to keep them in the UK. In 2007 Tate managed to raise £5m to purchase The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842).

Last month (July 2019) Turner’s oil painting Walton Bridges which sold at Sotheby’s in July 2018 was bought for the nation after funding was secured by Norfolk Museums Service following a temporary export bar.