Auctions: Turner oil goes for record sum

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851): Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio, 1841 (sold for nearly $36m. at Sotheby's).

A Venetian scene by J.M.W. Turner has sold at Christie's New York for $35,856,000, a world record for any British painting ever sold. It went to an anonymous private client bidding by telephone. Consigned for sale by the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation, a New York State-incorporated not-for-profit institution, the impression of the Venetian lagoon was last seen at public auction at Christie's in 1897. The previous world record price for a British painting was held by John Constable's The Lock, which was sold in November 1990 for $21,153,800. In 1840, Turner visited Venice for what would be the last time and made some 150 watercolors there. Back in London, he developed three oil paintings from these watercolors for the Royal Academy of Arts Exhibition of 1841. The loose and impressionistic style of Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio was hailed by the Art Union as "a glorious example of color, leaving, as usual, much to the fancy of the spectator; and absolutely extorting applause." The oil, which has all the architecture barely suggested in the distance and focuses on gondolas in the middle distance and foreground, was purchased from the 1841 exhibition by Elhanan Bicknell for 250 guineas, before being sold at Christie's in 1863 for 1,650 guineas. In 1897, the painting returned to Christie's and was sold at auction for 6,800 guineas to Sir Donald Currie, before his grandson sold the work through Agnew's to William Wood Prince in 1959 for an undisclosed sum. The painting returned to Agnew's in 1992 when they negotiated its sale to a private collector, who in turn donated the picture to the St. Francis of Assisi Foundation in New York. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was one of the pioneers of modern landscape painting. He first exhibited a watercolor at the Royal Academy Schools in 1790, when he was only 15 years old. In 1802, at age 27, he became the youngest ever Royal Academician. His early style was dramatic and romantic, but in his travels around Europe, he developed a looser style that appeared to anticipate impressionism. FOLLOWING THE deserved success of the sale of the Jucker Collection of Himalayan Paintings which totaled over $9m., Sotheby's sale of Indian and Southeast Asian Art brought $13,633,821, far exceeding pre-sale expectations. The sale set records for a number of artists, including S.H. Raza, whose Tapovan, 1972, one of the most important modern Indian paintings ever to be offered at auction, sold for $1,472,000 to a bidder on the telephone. Other new records were established for works by Jagdish Swaminathan, Akbar Padamsee and Ram Kumar. Tyeb Mehta's Falling Figure with Bird, 1988, commanded $1,248,000 and was purchased by a New York-based Indian hedge fund manager.