J.M.W Turner (1775-1851)
Wednesday 1 October 2008

Courtauld Receives Gift of Turner Watercolours


Eight works by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) are part of an exceptional bequest of British watercolours announced today by The Courtauld Gallery. The bequest of fifty-one works by Miss Dorothy Scharf is the most significant single addition to the Courtauld’s distinguished collection of works on paper for over twenty-five years. The bequest, which is to be vested in the Samuel Courtauld Trust, covers the period 1750-1850, the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of British watercolour painting. Miss Scharf, who died in 2004 and was the granddaughter of a professional art dealer, assembled the collection over a period of some forty years with the help of family funds. Many of the works were bought from, or with the advice of, a small number of London dealers including Agnew’s, Leger and Spink.

Andrew Wyld, former director of the watercolour department at Agnew’s, who advised Dorothy and her mother during the 1990s, found Dorothy ‘one of the most astute and demanding collectors I have dealt with during 35 years of art dealing. I developed a great respect and fondness for this forceful duo: the elderly and frail Mrs Scharf behind the wheel of an enormous Mercedes chauffeuring her daughter, and often pictures on approval, back and forth from St John’s Wood to the West End; Dorothy, always eager to see what was new in, often insisting on a (for me) pre-breakfast meeting in order to be sure of a parking space, and first chance at a new acquisition. Dorothy was extremely shy. Communication, including fierce negotiation, was often carried on between us via her mother, to whom Dorothy would confide her feelings and wishes to be conveyed to me. Once the price was right, and details of attribution and provenance agreed, a sense of calm would descend. Dorothy had obtained another masterpiece for the collection’.

The Dorothy Scharf collection includes works by the major watercolour painters of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and features several works of significant historical importance. Richard Wilson’s (1713-82) The Baths of Diocletian, 1754, is a particularly fine example by one of the early masters of British landscape. It is one of a small group commissioned by William Legge, the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, considered to include some of the most important of Wilson’s works on paper.

J. R. Cozens (1752-99) is represented by two works, The Tomb of Cecilia Metella and the intensely romantic A Ruined Fort near Salerno, both of which were commissioned by William Beckford, Cozens’s most important patron. A fine topographical landscape Tivoli, dated 1777, was executed by Thomas Jones (1742-1803), one of a number of British artists to travel to Italy at this time. The Scharf bequest also includes works by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), Francis Towne (1740-1816), Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), John Constable (1776-1837), Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28) and Samuel Palmer (1805-81), among others.

The group of eight works by Turner includes the typically atmospheric view Seelisburg by Moonlight and the vivid Margate Pier. The latter was owned by John Ruskin and subsequently by the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to whom it was apparently given as a birthday present in 1911. They join the 22 works by the artist already at the Courtauld and will be included in an exhibition of Turner’s watercolours there in October 2008. Ernst Vegelin, Head of the Courtauld Galleries, stated that ‘this remarkable act of generosity exemplifies the philanthropy through which the Courtauld’s outstanding collections have grown over the years. It raises the Gallery’s holdings of British watercolours to a new level of public importance’.

The Courtauld Gallery cares for a collection of over 7,000 drawings and watercolours. These are made available in its prints and drawings study room and through a programme of exhibitions and loans, as well as being fully digitised and accessible via the Courtauld’s website. Additionally, in February 2007 a dedicated space was inaugurated in the Gallery for rotating displays of drawings. This opened with a display of drawings by Rembrandt, selected to complement the current exhibition Guercino: Mind to Paper.

Note to Editors:
Twenty-five of the watercolours were designated as pre-eminent and accepted as conditionally exempt from inheritance tax by HM Revenue & Customs, Capital Taxes.

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