Last night, at Sotheby’s London, one of the last great Turner masterpieces remaining in private hands set a world auction record for the artist*, selling for a staggering £30.3 million/ $47.4 million/ €38.6 million (est. £15-20m / $24.1-32.1m / €19-25.3m). This result also represents the highest price at auction for any pre-20th century British artist and the second highest price for any work ever sold in the Old Master and British Paintings category. Four bidders competed for the work tonight, driving the work high above its pre-sale estimate. The sale coincided with a wider moment of Turner mania, with the groundbreaking exhibition of “Late Turner” at the Tate and Mike Leigh’s sensational “Mr Turner”.
Alex Bell, Joint International Head and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department said: “Turner is a revolutionary artist who transformed the way we experience painting, and Rome, from Mount Aventine is one of his greatest achievements. The landmark price the work achieved tonight was driven not only by its exceptional provenance and condition but also by the fact that it was one of the last great masterpieces by the artist left in private hands. Following this summer’s record evening sale, tonight’s auction is a further indication of the growing strength of the Old Master market. Where there is quality there are buyers, and we are seeing a huge influx of interest, most notably from new entrants into the field who this year accounted for 40% of our buyers.”
The spectacular work by Turner was the highlight of a high performing Old Master & British Paintings Evening sale which totalled £53,972,000 (€68,647,191/$84,423,002), well above the high estimate (est. £32.2 – 44.9 million).
Painted in 1835 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836, when Turner was 61 years old, Rome, from Mount Aventine is one of the artist’s supreme achievements and arguably the most important view of the Italian city ever painted. The large-scale oil painting is further distinguished by its exceptional state of preservation, as well as a prestigious and unbroken provenance. Until this evening’s sale, the work had changed hands only once in 1878, when it was acquired by the 5th Earl of Rosebery, later Prime Minister of Great Britain. The painting had since remained undisturbed in the Rosebery collection.
In 1836, The Morning Post described the work as “one of those amazing pictures by which Mr Turner dazzles the imagination and confounds all criticism: it is beyond praise.”
Commenting on the painting, Alex Bell, Joint International Head and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department said: “It is hard to overstate the importance of Rome, from Mount Aventine. There are no more than half a dozen major works by Turner left in private hands and this work must rank as one of the very finest. This painting, which is nearly 200 years old, looks today as if it has come straight from the easel of the artist; never relined and never subject to restoration, the picture retains the freshness of the moment it was painted: the hairs from Turner’s brush, his fingerprint, the drips of liquid paint which have run down the edge of the canvas, and every scrape of his palette knife have been preserved in incredible detail”.