The scheme, which is administered by the Arts Council, allows for the ownership of works of art to be transferred to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax – in this case offsetting £643,365 of the amount due from the previous owner’s estate.
Only a couple of works by Bonington have ever made more than this sum at auction according to Art Sales Index.
The artist’s auction record was set in 2015 when a coastal landscape made £2.15m (plus premium) at Christie’s. Although it dated from around the same period as the current work, it was a larger painting that came with a prestigious provenance (it had formerly hung at 10 Downing Street). Another coastal scene, On the Cote d'Opale, Picardy, fetched a premium-inclusive £1.37m again at Christie’s a year later.
Few 19th century British artists have ever reached these kind of price levels. However, Bonington’s works are highly regarded for their early Romanticism which influenced his European contemporaries as well as later artists.
Commercially, the fact that he died young from tuberculosis at the age of 25 means that he produced fewer major paintings compared to other artists, although he did produce an abundance of watercolours.
View on the River Seine – Morning is a 12 x 13.75in (30 x 35cm) oil on millboard from 1825-6 and may be an imaginary composition rather than a plein-air study.
It was one of a number of views inspired by his observation of the French landscape where he experimented with arranging trees, rivers and buildings in different combinations.
The work is now the second painting by Bonington to enter The National Gallery’s collection. The first was La Ferté, which dates from 1824-5, which was also allocated to the Gallery under the acceptance in lieu scheme in 2012.
The gallery said that the acquisition would allow it to highlight the close relationship between British and French paintings of the period, as well as making interesting parallels with British paintings already in the collection such as those by John Constable.
Acceptance in lieu – explained
The acceptance in lieu scheme is administered by the Arts Council. Its panel, which is chaired by Edward Harley, advises on whether property offered in lieu is of suitable importance and offered at a value which is fair to both nation and taxpayer.
The process allows for the transfer of important cultural, scientific or historic objects to the nation.
The material accepted under the scheme is allocated to public collections and in the last decade has brought over £330m worth of treasures into public ownership.