Cash-strapped aristocrats are set to sell a £20 million work of art so they can pay for essential work at their estates.
Joseph Turner’s masterpiece, Rome, from Mount Aventine, is being put up for sale by Dalmeny’s Lord and Lady Rosebery, who hope to achieve the estimated auction price of £15m to £20m so they can carry out the work on historic buildings including Dalmeny House, in West Lothian.
The heirloom and national treasure is regarded as “one of the very finest” of only a handful of works by Turner which remains in private hands, with its depiction of the Italian capital being cherished by four generations of the Rosebery family after it was first purchased by Archibald Primrose, a future Liberal prime minister, for £6142 in 1878.
The prized work last changed hands when Downing Street was home to Benjamin Disraeli and has also been admired by millions of Scots after it went to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1978 on a long loan. The oil painting from 1835 was taken down earlier this year ahead of the Sotheby’s sale of Old Masters in December.
The Roseberys previously sold the painting’s companion work, Modern Rome – Campo Vaccanio, in 2010 where they acquired a record price for the painting which was bought for £29.7m by the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The family said they hoped this “magnificent” work will “bring as much joy” to the new owners as it has to them.
In a statement they said: “During the first 100 years we owned this picture, it hung alongside its sister picture of Modern Rome in pride of place in our homes – first in London and later at Mentmore in Buckinghamshire,” a family statement explained. “For the last 40 years or so, the painting has been on loan to major museums, and we have drawn much pleasure from knowing that so many people have had the opportunity to see and enjoy it.
“Now, in order to maintain the estates for which we are responsible, and to safeguard their future, we have made the decision to sell it.
“We dearly hope that this magnificent picture will bring as much joy to its new owners as it has both to us and to the public over so many years.”
The painting was commissioned by Hugh Munro of Novar and took seven years to complete, with the Turner visiting Italy to capture the Tiber coursing through the Eternal City. Experts say the sale represents a “rare and exciting” opportunity to acquire a groundbreaking work in British art history as hairs from the artist’s paintbrush and drips of paint along its bottom edges can still be seen on the canvas.
Alex Bell, co-chair of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department, said: “There are fewer than ten major Turners in private hands known today 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, 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.”