Before he died in 1851, the celebrated landscape and maritime painter J.M.W. Turner bequeathed much of his art to the British nation, so that the public could appreciate his work in perpetuity. But some of the artist's paintings remained in private hands and have rarely surfaced at auctions.
On Wednesday, an 1835 landscape painting by Turner fetched $47.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in London. Sotheby's, which had estimated that the painting would go for between $23 million and $31 million, said the final amount represents an auction record for Turner. "Rome, from Mount Aventinue" features a panoramic view of the Italian city, facing north, bathed in the artist's signature diaphanous light.
The painting was commissioned by Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar, a prominent Scottish art collector who was one of Turner's most important patrons. The last time the piece was sold was in 1878, at a Christie's auction.
The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London shortly after it was completed. It has been on view at various museums throughout its life, including recently at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Wednesday's auction featured works by old masters including Pieter Brueghel the Younger and the female artist Artemisia Gentileschi. Sotheby's said the auction fetched a total of $84.6 million.
The Turner sale comes at a time of heightened public interest in the artist thanks to Mike Leigh's new movie "Mr. Turner," which depicts the final quarter-century of the painter's life. The movie, which is set to open in the U.S. later this month, stars actor Timothy Spall as Turner.
"Mr. Turner" features a scene in which the artist tells a collector that the bulk of his paintings will be given to the British nation rather than sold.