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Storm clouds lift over Turner paintings at National Museum Cardiff

For the first time ever, visitors to National Museum Cardiff will be able to see Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ seven oil paintings by one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, JMW Turner (1775-1851) displayed together, at a new exhibition which opens on Tuesday, 25 September 2012.


Until recently, Amgueddfa Cymru could claim to have only four Turner oils in the collection, but now after recent research and examination by Museum experts and with the help of the BBC’s Fake or Fortune programme, which will be broadcast tonight (7.00pm, BBC One) it has been concluded that all seven are authentic Turner oil paintings.


The three paintings, which were in question and which were highlighted in BBC’s Fake or Fortune programme are The Beacon Light, Margate Jetty and Off Margate.


All seven of the paintings were bequeathed to the Museum in 1951 and 1963 as genuine works by Turner by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. The Davies sisters of Llandinam are most renowned for their collection of impressionist paintings however Turner was undoubtedly one of their favourite artists and one of the first artists that they acquired. Between 1908 and 1926 the Davies sisters collected an impressive 13 watercolours and 9 oil paintings. Although bought at different times and from different sources, all of the oil paintings were thought to have come from the same small group of late seascapes.


Doubts about the Davies Turners were first expressed by the dealers Agnews, shortly after Gwendoline’s bequest to the Museum. A memo from the Keeper of Art to the Director in 1955 states, ‘I find it hard to understand this criticism, but since it comes from that particular source, we are obliged to take it seriously.’


The paintings were examined at the Tate gallery by Turner experts and were compared with works from the Turner bequest. The conclusions were not what the Museum wanted to hear, only two of the oil paintings, Morning after the Wreck and Morning after the Storm were accepted as genuine. The other paintings were all felt to be fakes, totally reworked paintings or paintings by other hands. All were therefore taken off display at the Museum.


Over the years, further experts have examined and commented on the paintings. Opinion have been varied but at some stage, all seven of the paintings in the group have been doubted.


Some of the paintings have been reattributed to Turner over the years, as more is learnt about the artist’s techniques. It has been happily accepted in recent years that The Morning after the Wreck, The Storm and The Morning After the Storm are genuine. Most people have also accepted Sailing Boat off Deal. However significant doubts remained, particularly over Margate Jetty and Off Margate and, to what extent, if any, had The Beacon Light been over-painted by a different hand.


Beth McIntyre, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Amgueddfa Cymru, said:


“We felt it was time to re-assess all of the paintings in this group and were fortunate to have so much interest and help from Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce from the BBC Fake or Fortune programme.


“Together with my colleague, Adam Webster, Amgueddfa Cymru’s Chief Conservator, we looked back at the provenance and history, examined the works in the conservation studio and consulted today’s experts at Tate, Ian Warrell, Senior Curator and Dr Joyce Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist.


“We are of the opinion that all of the Turner paintings bequeathed by the Davies sisters are, in fact, authentic. The materials and techniques are typical of the artist’s work. It was felt that Off Margate and The Beacon Light are probably unfinished works, that Margate Jetty is a fragment from a much larger canvas and that Sailing Boat off Deal is from a group of small oils on board, but that all the works are by Turner’s hand and there is no evidence of substantial over-painting.”


Philip Mould - art dealer and art historian and one of the presenters of Fake or Fortune said:


“It is extremely satisfying to reverse the slur on these pictures. It’s not only fantastic for Wales but also rights the miscarriage of justice for the Davies Sisters. Anything new by Turner, particularly from this period of his life, is a highly significant art historical advance."


Beth McIntyre added:


“The Davies sisters collection utterly transformed the character, quality and range of Wales’ national art collection. Thanks to them we have a truly magnificent art collection here and I’m delighted that the mystery of the last three Turner paintings has finally been solved and they are seeing the light of day again.”


Entry to National Museum Cardiff is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Government. The display J.M.W. Turner: The Davies Collection brings together all the works by Turner bequeathed by the Davies sisters to the Museum and continues until 20 January 2013.