The £30m Turner sale shows how all-powerful the Getty Museum is

imageTurner’s “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” deserves the £29.7m record price that the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles paid for it.
Not only does it show Turner’s soft, hazy, original brush working well. It’s also of a thumpingly familiar, picture postcard scene  – the view down from the Capitoline Hill across the ancient ruins of the Forum, then still called the Campo Vaccino, or cattle field, because of the thick layers of earth and vegetation that covered it after the fall of Rome. It’s still a pleasingly rural spot in Turner’s picture – with goats and peasants roaming the ruins, and very few tourists on mini-breaks.

The sale also shows the shift in power in the art market over the last century or so. The picture was bought in 1878 by the 5th Earl of Rosebery, later the Prime Minister, whose family still live in Dalmeny House, just outside Edinburgh. It wouldn’t have left much of a dent in his wallet; that year he married Hannah Rothschild, the richest heiress in Britain.

Turner’s picture has remained in the family ever since, until now. Lord Dalmeny, heir to the current Lord Rosebery, works at Sotheby’s; his decision to sell it through the company is the auctioneer’s version of ‘le patron mange ici’.

The fact that it has gone to the Getty shows how completely the natural home of international art-buying megabucks has shifted from Victorian aristocrats and heiresses to Californian oil tycoons.

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