Joseph Mallord William Turner‘s breathtaking watercolour painting, “Sunrise over the Sea,” is set to be showcased in the highly anticipated Old Master and British Drawings and Watercolours sale.
This exquisite artwork captures the elusive allure of changing sunlight, an ethereal beauty cherished throughout various cultures and eras. With an estimated value of £600,000-800,000, this quietly mesmerizing masterpiece by Turner is a standout highlight during Classic Week London.
Previously owned by the late Walter Brandt, a renowned collector of British Watercolours and brother of esteemed photographer Bill Brandt, “Sunrise over the Sea” holds a remarkable provenance. This exceptional artwork, preserved in excellent condition, offers a splendid representation of Turner’s late watercolours and serves as a poignant connection to the world of Modern British Art, which marked Walter Brandt’s collecting journey.
Prior to the auction, art enthusiasts can admire this remarkable piece at Christie’s New York from 10 to 14 June and at the Classic Week pre-sale exhibition in London from 1 to 4 July.
The Remarkable Collector – Walter Brandt
Walter Brandt, born in Hamburg in 1902 to Ludwig and Lili, relocated with his family to London in the 1920s. In 1923, he joined William Brandt & Son & Co., a prominent international trading agency based in the City, which belonged to the family. It was during World War II, while his wife and children resided in Cornwall, that Walter’s passion for collecting began to flourish.
Initially, he focused on modern British art and acquired notable works by esteemed artists such as John Piper and Henry Moore. However, Walter Brandt’s collecting interests soon shifted towards British artists born before 1800, a criterion he strictly adhered to, with only a few exceptions. Distinguished among his contemporaries, Brandt refrained from acquiring bundles of drawings, meticulously selecting each individual sheet to assemble a collection of extraordinary quality and uniqueness.
Turner’s Enduring Connection with Margate
Joseph Mallord William Turner’s association with Margate dates back to the 1780s when he was just a teenager. However, it was during the early 1830s that Turner rediscovered Margate while researching scenes for his renowned series, “Picturesque Views in England and Wales.” From then on, Margate became a regular destination for Turner, who discovered lodgings offering captivating views of the sandy beach.
These visits resulted in a profusion of swift sketches, vibrant colour studies, and experimental ideas for oil paintings, establishing Margate as one of the pivotal places in Turner’s artistic journey, alongside Rome, Farnley, Petworth, Venice, Lake Lucerne, and the Rigi. Over time, Turner developed a close relationship with his landlady, Sophia Caroline Booth (1798-1875), who twice experienced the loss of a spouse. The present picture, “Sunrise over the Sea,” was originally owned by Booth, representing a testament to their connection. Given the societal standards of mid-Victorian Britain, their relationship was regarded as “irregular.”
Harriet Drummond, International Head of British Drawings and Watercolours, commented: “This remarkably well-preserved and ravishingly beautiful drawing is an exceptional example of the boldly expressive watercolours Turner made in his final years. Previously dated to the later 1820s, it is has now been associated by Ian Warrell for the first time with sheets of one of the ‘roll’ sketchbooks that were broken up and dispersed after Turner’s death.
Turner deployed these light-weight books on many of his later travels in the early 1840s, notably in Germany, Venice and the celebrated final tours of Switzerland. In this instance, the dismantled book can be placed in the sequence of sketchbooks used during the summer of 1845, overlapping in its focus on cloudy skies over the sea with the contents of the ‘Channel’ sketchbook at the Yale Center for British Art, and several of those in the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain.”
Turner’s Pursuit of Dramatic Conjunctions
In the summer of 1845, Turner sought solace in Margate and subsequently embarked on two documented trips to Northern France that year. Even during these excursions, his artistic pursuits remained fixated on capturing the dynamic interplay between clouds and light.
Whether bathed in radiant sunshine or shrouded in stormier skies, Turner’s works during this period showcased an insatiable fascination with dramatic atmospheric conditions. Interestingly, roughly two decades after Turner’s exploration of the French coastal regions, a new generation of artists, including Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, endeavoured to immortalize the expansive Channel shores with their towering clouds and limitless skies.
Regardless of whether the depicted sunrise scene originates from Margate or the Northern coast of France, Turner transcends the specifics, delving into something more profound and timeless. Through his artistry, he magically unveils the essence of extraordinary moments captured in his brushstrokes.
Turner’s Mastery of Sunrise Light
While Joseph Mallord William Turner is often celebrated posthumously for his depictions of sunset light, recent reconsiderations have reclassified many of the works previously identified as sunsets to now be recognized as sunrises.
Turner himself revealed his affinity for the early hours to a young admirer, stating, “When you are all fast asleep, I am watching effects of sunrise far more beautiful [than the sunsets people associated with him]; and then, you see, the light does not fail, and you can paint them.”
This dedicated approach to observing and capturing the transient qualities of changing light foreshadows the methods employed by Claude Monet, who painted successive canvases within a limited timeframe throughout the day. Both Turner and Monet were irresistibly drawn to the unique character of dawn and twilight, seeking to immortalize these fleeting moments in their remarkable works of art.
Images: Christie’s Images LTD. 2023