NEW YORK—British culture minister David Lammy has placed a temporary export ban on an 1842 watercolor by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), The Blue Rigi, Lake of Lucerne, Sunrise. The work was sold at a Christie’s auction last June for £5.8 million ($10.98 million)—a record for a British work on paper—to an anonymous buyer. Christie’s did not reveal the nationality of the buyer.
According to a Sept. 21 statement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Lammy’s ruling on the work follows a recommendation by an export reviewing committee of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The committee suggested that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the painting is “of outstanding aesthetic importance and that it is of outstanding significance for the study of the work of J.M.W. Turner, and, in particular, his final masterpieces,” the DCMS reports.
The committee awarded a “starred rating” to the painting, an indication that “every possible effort” should be made to raise funds to keep the work in England.
Any decision on the export license was deferred until Nov. 20, though that period may be extended until March 2007 if a serious intention to raise funds for a purchase is expressed. According to the DCMS, the recommended purchase price is £5.8 million. Offers from public institutions that are below the recommended price also may be considered by Lammy, the DCMS says.
Turner’s Swiss scenes are considered to be among the most important of his works. Between 1841-44 the artist made yearly trips to Switzerland, where he was inspired by the landscape around Lake Lucerne and the Rigi mountain. Upon returning home to England in 1842, Turner executed four highly finished watercolors of the area.
Last spring Lammy placed a temporary export bar on two other Turner works: The Dark Rigi, 1842, which reportedly had been sold for £2.7 million; and the earlier Lake of Lucerne, circa 1815, for which the DCMS’s recommended price is £2.088 million. The Tate Britain attempted to raise funds for acquisition of The Dark Rigi but was unsuccessful. Reportedly it was sold to a private buyer.
Tate Britain has the largest collection of Turner works in the world, including several studies for the “Rigi” series. According to the DCMS statement, the Turner bequest at the Tate “contains breathtaking views of the mountain in
the ‘Lucerne’ sketchbook and dozens of color sketches—some still in the process of identification—which testify to the energy with which Turner stalked his subject. The possibility of studying The Blue Rigi in the context of these enhances its importance for the purposes of study.”