Campaigning Turner picture for sale after 180 years

LONDON (Reuters) - A campaigning landscape by British master JMW Turner, owned by the same family for the last 180 years, goes on sale in July with a starting price of five million pounds ($9.859 million) but no upper limit in sight.

Sotheby's employees hold Turner's "Pope's Villa at Twickenham" at Sotheby's auction house in central London April 24, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

“Pope’s Villa at Twickenham” was one of the first pictures Turner executed after his election to the post of Professor of Perspective at the prestigious Royal Academy in 1807.

It depicts the destruction of influential poet Alexander Pope’s house on the banks of the River Thames in what was then a semi-rural area to the west of London.

“It is from the most formative part of Turner’s career and illustrates something that was a fixation with him through his life -- the idea of artistic legacy,” said Emmeline Hallmark, head of British art at auction house Sotheby’s.

“He was incredibly distressed at what he saw as an act of vandalism, the destruction of Pope’s house which had become a shrine to his fans who in turn had become a nuisance to the new owner with their constant visits to see it.”

When it first went on show in 1808 in Turner’s own gallery, fellow landscape artist John Landseer penned a three-page commentary praising the tone and composition of the painting.

The picture was immediately snapped up by art patron John Leicester who in 1827 sold it to wealthy collector James Morrison whose descendants have passed it from generation to generation ever since.

The oil on canvas painting shows three groups of figures in the foreground, one of which appears to be workmen deciding what to do with items from the house, on the near banks of the river with Pope’s house shrouded in scaffolding on the far bank.

“Turner, who lived nearby and loved the area, was very concerned about his own legacy and couldn’t understand how an artifact from the past could be wantonly destroyed,” Hallmark said.

In a twist that no doubt would have gratified Turner, his pictorial lament at the destruction of a piece of history is being sold to help pay for the restoration of the historic Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

For the past 40 years the painting has hung in the castle which is directly linked to Morrison’s heirs.

The picture will be part of Sotheby’s sale in London on July 9 of Old Master paintings.