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 J M W Turner, Tate, Royal Academy
Tate broke Deathbed Promise Says J.M.W. Turner Heir - ArtLyst Article image

Tate broke Deathbed Promise Says J.M.W. Turner Heir

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Hypocritical Turner descendent demands that J.M.W. Turner’s scattered paintings be exhibited together in one place

A descendent of J.M.W. Turner is to petition parliament to force the Royal Academy and Tate to fulfil the painter’s final wishes – to display all of Turner’s paintings, which he bequeathed to the nation, together in one place. Ray Turner, the descendent in question, has furthermore made intimations that he will not in fact leave his estate to the Royal Academy or Tate as first intended. His rationale for this wavering is the ‘abysmal’ track record when it ‘comes to respecting the wishes of the Turner family wills’.

Things are not, however, as black and white as Ray Turner makes out.

When J.M.W. Turner died in 1851, he bequeathed 300 paintings, 30,000 drawings, and as a large sum of money to the nation. These gifts were given under strict conditions – that the pictures be housed in a custom-built ‘Turner Gallery’ at the National Gallery, and that the money be spent on the creation of a Twickenham almshouse for elderly artists.

But the Turner family subsequently challenged this philanthropic will under the 1736 Mortmain law – enacted to defend relatives against such ‘delirious ambition[s] of erecting palaces for beggars’. In the end, they managed to recover all but £20,000 (which went to the Royal Academy).

Ray Turner’s complaints rest on the grounds that Turner’s will has not been fulfilled, but this is deeply ironic given that it was the Turner family who perverted the painter’s final wishes in the first place!

It is true that J.M.W. Turner’s request for his works to be exhibited exclusively in a ‘Turner Gallery’ has not been fulfilled, as today the paintings have been split between the National Gallery and the Tate. But the galleries defend themselves against on the basis that ‘any chance of fulfilling his intentions was ruined when his family contested it’.

So, while Ray Turner may here have a point, he surely cannot have it both ways: is the will to be respected? Or is it not?

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" The fact that the National Gallery (and now Tate) failed to carry out Turner's conditions for his bequest of paintings had nothing to do with the actions of his heirs, but was caused by repeated failures over the National Gallery. I have set the facts out at length, and these are not seriously disputed. In fact the National Gallery and Royal Academy got more than Turner intended due to the action of his heirs, which is hardly an excuse for doing less. " - 16-11-2011  

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