JMW Turner masterpiece Walton Bridges 'saved for the nation'

Walton Bridges Image copyright Courtesy Sotheby's
Image caption Walton Bridges has been brought back into public ownership

An early masterpiece by JMW Turner will return to public ownership after a last-minute intervention to keep the painting in the UK.

The £2.32m purchase of Walton Bridges was boosted by a £2.1m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

An overseas collector bought the 1806 oil painting for almost £3.5m last year but was barred from taking it out of the UK because of its cultural value.

Arts minister Rebecca Pow said the art had been "saved for the nation".

Walton Bridges will be used in a four-year scheme of exhibitions and youth education events led by Norfolk Museums Service.

The work is believed to be the first oil painting by Turner to be painted in the open air - a practice that became key to his artistic approach.

'Very proud'

Ms Pow said: "Turner's magnificent work, painted at the beginning of the industrial revolution, will now continue to be exhibited and admired and will inspire future generations of British artists thanks to Norfolk Museums Service."

Anne Jenkins of the National Lottery Heritage Fund said: "Saving the wonderful Walton Bridges for the nation and providing the East of England with their first Turner to enter a public collection is an initiative we're very proud to have funded."

Turner, one of the country's most celebrated landscape artists, is credited with influencing many painters with links to the East of England, including John Constable and the artists of the Norwich School.

The painting will be displayed first at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery from September, before touring the region and returning permanently in 2023.

Money for the painting also came from the charity Art Fund and a private donor, while Norfolk Museums Service linked up with Colchester and Ipswich museums to fund the events programme.

Walton Bridges

Image copyright Courtesy Sotheby's
Image caption The painting reflects a moment at the start of the Industrial Revolution

The painting shows the double-span bridge crossing the Thames in Surrey, and was painted following Turner's move to Isleworth in 1804 or 1805.

He painted many river scenes during boat trips along the Thames in his early 30s, fascinated by capturing sky and water on canvas.

Many reflect the beginning of the industrial revolution, contrasting rural scenery and commercial activity.

By the 1850s, the bridge Turner painted had collapsed and today a new steel bridge stands in its place.

Walton Bridges held the auction record for a Turner painting three times in the 19th Century.

Its sale for £3.484m in July 2018 eventually fell through after it was made subject to a temporary export deferral.

That status is recommended by an Arts Council Committee for artworks of national significance, giving public bodies a limited time to raise money to buy them.

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