Ashmolean Museum Campaigns To Save Turner Painting For The Nation

Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford has announced the launch of a public campaign to raise the final £60,000 to secure for the nation a major work by Joseph Mallord William Turner. The High Street, Oxford, 1810 has been on loan to the Museum from a private collection since 1997, and has been offered to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax.

The painting would settle £3.5 million of inheritance tax – which is more than the tax liable on the estate – so the Ashmolean must raise the difference – a sum of £860,000 – to acquire the painting. Over 90% of this sum has Ashmolean Campaigns to Acquire Major Painting by JMW Turner been secured already.

The Museum has already received lead support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with a grant of £550,000; a grant of £220,000 from the Art Fund; and a further £30,000 from the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean.

The High Street, Oxford is unique in Turner’s output and in the history of English art. It represents one of the most beautiful streets in Europe, a street which has materially changed little since Turner painted it. Although he painted many townscapes in watercolour, Turner never again attempted such a picture in oils.

Dr Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, says: ‘The importance of keeping this beautiful painting in Oxford cannot be overstated. High Street, Oxford is the young Turner’s most significant townscape and the greatest painting of the city that has ever been made. ‘We are profoundly grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and our patrons who have already shown their support for this campaign. If the Ashmolean does not acquire the painting, it will be sold on the open market. All major oil paintings by Turner that have been offered at auction in recent years have been bought by foreign buyers.’

Over the summer, the Ashmolean will mount public events giving the people of Oxford and the city’s thousands of tourists the chance to engage with the painting in the place where it was created. A photography competition, ‘My View of Oxford’, will be launched in June, encouraging photographers of all ages and abilities to respond to the Turner by capturing their personal view of the city.

The winning entries will be shown in the Museum later in the summer. On the streets of Oxford, full-size reproductions of the painting will be displayed in prominent locations, encouraging the public to join the campaign and visit the Ashmolean to see the original picture. Acknowledged as one of the greatest landscape artists of all time, Turner painted over thirty finished watercolours of Oxford views, by far the most numerous group devoted to a single place in his entire output.

Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, says: ‘It would be unthinkable for this particular painting, unique among Turner’s work, not to remain on public display in the city. We have been delighted to support its acquisition and wish the Ashmolean well in its public appeal for the balance of the funding required.’

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, says: ‘This most important picture simply must be saved by the Ashmolean: we’re pleased to have supported the campaign substantially ourselves and fervently hope that anyone else who loves Turner, Oxford and the Ashmolean, will now do the same.’

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