A JMW Turner painting that was believed to be a hoax for more than a century has been redrawn to the artist after new research revealed that he had bought the portrait himself and made alterations that left former scientists confused.
The oil painting of Selgeran Castle in Wales is a rare second copy of another photograph of the same landscape, which is currently in Cragside, Northumberland.
For more than 120 years, scholars have debated the authenticity of this second painting since it was exhibited at Guildhall in 1899, due in part to subtle changes to the sky in the image.
Art historians have not been able to see why the painting, created when Turner was in his early twenties, used materials and techniques reminiscent of Turner’s later style.
Now, thanks to a combination of years of historical research and cutting-edge modern technology, the “last piece in the jigsaw puzzle” has been discovered and the palette can finally be added to Turner’s Law.
The painting sold this week for £1 million at an evening auction by OldMasters at Sotheby’s.
Turner first visited Cilgerran Castle on his tour of South Wales in 1798, and the Romantic painter captured the history of Wales with its ancient legends and legends.
Long hard road to discovery
Julian Gascoigne, Sotheby’s chief specialist in British paintings, explained the tortuous three-year path to solving a century-old mystery.
It started when Sotheby’s conducted a routine appraisal of the painting’s previous owner, a private client in the north of England.
The team decided that the image merited further research and that it should be displayed alongside the original image to help confirm authenticity.
Ian Warrell, a senior researcher at Turner, evaluated the images together at Cragside, concluding that they were likely created “by the same hand.”
Mr. Gascoigne said: “The last piece of the jigsaw puzzle… was that this picture was actually repurchased in 1827 from Sir John Fleming Lister, a very important collector who had bought the picture years earlier, by Turner himself.”
Since Turner had used an agent to buy back the image, the name in the catalog was different and it was only when Mr. Warrell revealed a press report from the time the buyer’s true identity was revealed.
Mr. Gascoigne continued: “At this point, in 1827, Turner was a mature artist and had recovered a portrait he had painted in his early twenties, about 1799, evidently dissatisfied with certain aspects he enters and adds to the painting.
“He made alterations, notably in the sky, and then sold the picture to his great patron and great collector in his later years, Hugh Andrew Johnston, Monroe of Novar.”
Mr. Gascoigne said that by this time in his life, Turner had been buying back a number of his paintings with the intention of bequeathing them to the nation.
Then the team at Sotheby’s analyzed the image using a specialized XRF (X-ray fluorescence) machine that identified the elements and components in the paint.
The researchers then compared this information with their historical research and were, finally, able to confirm the painting as part of Turner’s legacy.
Combining historical research with scientific analysis allowed the team to conclude that the painting had been revised by Turner himself in the late 1820s, using pigments that were available to him at the time.
Mr Gascoigne added: “This question mark has hung on the board for years, and thanks to the benefit of modern scientific analysis, modern scholarship and the ability to put the two images side by side once again, we have finally been able to answer that question, which is rare.
“What was once an unsolvable question is now resolved.”