The sale for £19m of Turner’s Ehrenbreitstein at Sotheby’s just goes to show was a strange business art is, writes Rachel Parker
JMW Turner’s magnificent masterpiece Ehrenbreitstein fetched a tidy £19 million at Sotheby’s this week, achieving one of the highest prices for a work by the artist at auction.
Though the 1835 canvas, which depicts the ancient Rhine fortress, did not set a new record, it in fact realised the fourth highest value for a Turner, according to Artnet, and safely met its guide price of between £15 and £25 million. The landscape was sold most recently in 1965 when it made for a then record £88,000.
The current record is held by Turner’s Rome, From Mount Aventine (1835) which sold in 2014 for £30.3 million, also at Sotheby’s in London. That painting was last sold in 1878 to the fifth Earl of Rosebery and since then has been held the Rosebery collection.
Experts then speculated that the unexpected sale price of Rome – the estimate had been £15 to £20 million – came as a result of increased general interest in the artist and followed the release of the film Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall. It was also hailed as evidence of strength in the Old Master sector.
What, then, accounts for the difference in sale prices? Well, art sleuth and premier gallerist Philip Mould reckons the variation is rather more down to the specifics of the paintings than the market in general. ‘Rome, From Mount Aventine, delivers possibly more of the classic ingredients of the expansive and light filled Turner that collectors associate with the artist at his best,’ Mould tells Spear's. ‘Ehrenbreitstein, although an example of Turner’s skill with topography and enmeshed figures, was perhaps rather less expansive in the way that collectors prize his most significant works.’
So one Turner is worth more than another? Maybe – another factor was that in 2014 four bidders notably forced up the price of Rome by fighting over it during the bidding. It’s hard to say; what is undeniable, however, is that Sotheby’s gave Rome a guide price of £15 to £20 million – a neat £5 million range – while Ehrenbreitstein’s range this week was £10 million, (from £15 to £25 million) indicating that the market is unpredictable, even to those closest to it. As Turner was wont to say himself: ‘Painting is a strange business.’