Walton Bridges: a Turner for the East

Francesca Vanke, Chief Curator and Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art

In July 2019, Norfolk Museums Service, thanks to a generous grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, additional timely funding from the Art Fund and a private donor, purchased Walton Bridges by Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Norfolk Museums Service led on the fundraising, partnering with Colchester and Ipswich Museums. The painting had been sold to a buyer in Europe at auction at Sotheby’s in London in July 2018. It was subject to a temporary export deferral, to allow a UK museum the opportunity to buy it and keep it in this country, in public ownership.

J.M.W. Turner, Walton Bridges (1806)

This meant there was a short window of time in which to raise the funds – but only about four months. It can sometimes take more than a year for museums to raise enough funding for major acquisitions like this one, so we had to work very quickly, and intensely, to meet some tight funding deadlines.

There is, of course, a lot of competition for any funding such as that offered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, so an application has to be very strong. It must explain clearly why the object we want to buy is important, not only in itself, but for the museum’s collection, and in this case, for the region, and the nation. Also, once the museum has acquired the work, what will we do with it? How will we make sure as many people as possible get to see and enjoy it? We planned an imaginative and creative programme, of exhibitions, events and activities, aimed at a wide range of audiences, all around the region.

The acquisition is the first Turner oil to enter a public collection in the East of England – specifically Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Here it will complement existing holdings of important British landscape paintings by John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, and the artists of the Norwich School, including John Sell Cotman and John Crome, for all of whom Turner was lastingly influential.

There are three paintings by Turner in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but differing in style and subject to this one. Audiences in East Anglia have had little opportunity up till now to encounter locally the work of this important artist who is not only one of the most famous and popular worldwide, but one of the most significant to the development of nineteenth and twentieth century British painting.

Walton Bridges went on display at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery in September 2019. Covid-19 has meant that the planned first exhibition on the tour, to Kings Lynn, has been postponed until summer 2022, but in late September Walton Bridges was able to go to Colchester Castle as originally planned, where it will remain until 28th March 2021. It will arrive back in Norwich in time for the opening of our John Crome bicentenary exhibition on 23rd April 2021.

The painting will tour to Kings Lynn, Ipswich, and Great Yarmouth over the next three years before going back on permanent display at Norwich Castle in 2024. During that time we plan for as many different activities as possible. It has already inspired innovative responses: the Ancient House Teenage History Club presented a short history of Turner through the medium of memes at the unveiling of the painting, much to the delight of the invited guests.

You can read more about the memes from AHTHC themselves in this blog post which they wrote for us all about the presentation!

Recently Norwich Castle’s Learning team have featured it as part of their In The Picture series on YouTube –

A play with animations by UEA drama students is in progress.

At Colchester Castle, although the museum is temporarily closed, a group from Autism Anglia have made a collage inspired by the painting, and Colchester’s Learning team are preparing a Turner Takeover Day with local schools early next year. In Norwich, our Lottery-funded youth engagement project, Kick the Dust, also have a Turner Takeover planned. Although this has had to be postponed, it will take place next year.

Thanks to National Lottery players, many people have already had the chance to enjoy East Anglia’s Turner, and many more will do so in the near future.

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