JMW Turner’s Ehrenbreitstein was first shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1835, but it is currently under threat of leaving the UK for the first time unless a suitable buyer can be found.
The painting was sold on 7 July last year at a Sotheby's Old Masters auction in London, to an undisclosed foreign buyer. It was previously sold in 1965 through Agnew's, also to an anonymous owner, but has never previously been at risk of leaving the UK.
However, the sale from last year has now led the arts minister Michael Ellis to place a temporary export bar on the painting to help provide an opportunity to keep it in the country. In order to save it being sent abroad, a buyer must match its £18.5m price tag, as well as VAT of £306,750. The decision on the export licence application has been deferred until 28 May, which may be extended to 28 November if there is a serious intention to match its price.
The deferring of the export licence comes after a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA). One member of the committee, the dealer Lowell Libson, says: “This magnificent and beautifully preserved painting from Turner’s maturity demonstrates this great artist’s ability to present many layered narratives—historical and emotional—within the context of topography.”
The painting is a depiction of the historic fortress overlooking the Rhine near the central German city of Kolbenz, filled with historical references to the French Revolutionary Wars. It depicts the grave of General Francois-Sévérin Marceau-Desgraviers, a hero of the French Revolutionary Army, who was a symbol of European reconciliation, after his career united German and French soldiers. Even though Turner produced a number of illustrations of sites associated with Byron, this is the only one he produced of Ehrenbreitstein in oil.
Ellis says: “This rich, atmospheric painting demonstrates Turner’s extraordinary skill depicting light, as well as the close relationship between painting and poetry. I very much hope that it can remain in the UK, where it can be admired and appreciated by future generations for many years to come.”
Individuals or organisations with an interest in purchasing the work can contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.