‘Landscape with Walton Bridges’ by JMW Turner
‘Landscape with Walton Bridges’ by JMW Turner – estimated at £4m-6m at Sotheby’s.

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Estimated at £4m-6m, it will appear at the auction on July 3. It has been consigned from a private Japanese collection where it has been for around 35 years.

The estimate may seem conservative for a large and important picture by an artist who has fetched over five times this level in the past.

The highest prices for Turner have come for views of Rome: Rome, from Mount Aventine which took £27m at Sotheby’s in December 2014 and holds the auction record for the artist, and Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino which also sold at Sotheby's, in July 2010, for £26.5m and was acquired by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

However, compared to these £20m-plus works, which were both fully resolved exhibition paintings from the mid-1830s, this later and more loosely handled picture of an English subject was never intended for public consumption.

It was described by Sotheby’s Old Master paintings specialist Julian Gascoigne as more of “a landscape of the artist’s mind, rather than a topographically specific place”.

Liber composition

The 2ft 11in x 3ft 11in (88cm x 1.18m) oil on canvas dates from c.1840-50 and was one of around 10 works in Turner’s late series of works where he returned to the landscapes depicted in his engravings for Liber Studiorum, a book published earlier in his career, c.1810-11. This example is the only one that remains in private hands.

The long two-humped bridge at Walton-on-Thames was the central motif in the series. As well as featuring in as prints in the Liber Studiorum volume, Turner also painted two oil paintings of the scene in 1806 and 1807, showing the bridge from different directions.

The artist was clearly fascinated by the view which was not far from his home in Isleworth and, at the time he moved there in 1805, the bridge was relatively new (it was replaced later in the 19th century).

But, while these earlier works show more of a debt to more traditional Italianate landscape painting, this later canvas at Sotheby’s was described by the auction house as “proto Impressionist” in style, with the exploration of light being the central element of the painting.

Gascoigne said: “This spectacular series of late oil paintings, in which Turner fondly revisits and reworks motifs long cherished in his mind, show a great artist late in his career... Vigorously and freely painted, with an emphasis on colour and light, rather than structure and form, he is exploring the possibilities of his medium and painting for himself, not for public consumption.”

JP Morgan collection

Landscape with Walton Bridges was one of the few late works by Turner that had left his studio and was therefore not included as part of the bequest the artist left to the nation on his death (the works are now in Tate Britain).

Turner gave it to his landlady and partner, Sophia Booth, and it later appeared at Christie’s sale of her son’s collection in 1865.

In 1887, the painting went to the US when it was acquired by the American financier and collector Junius Spencer Morgan. In turn, it was inherited by his son, the banker John Pierpont Morgan who greatly expanded the family's wealth and art collection.

It remained in the Morgan collection for almost a century before it appeared at an auction at Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet in New York in October 1982, where it failed to sell against a $1m estimate.

Two years later it appeared at London dealer Agnews’ exhibition The Heroic Age and subsequently entered the Japanese collection.

Perhaps the best auction comparison to the current work was the sale of the painting often regarded as its pendant, Landscape: Woman with a Tambourine, which sold at Christie’s in April 1989 for £1m and, coincidentally, is now in a Japanese museum.