The existence of the Schmadribach Waterfall drawing was only made public following Sewell’s death at the sale of his collection of Old Master and British paintings and drawings at Christie’s in September 2016.
Sewell had purchased the drawing in the 1960s and it had been previously unattributed.
The winning bidder, an American collector, applied for an export licence but the department of culture, media and sport refused the licence last year in the hope a UK-based owner could match the £68,750 bid.
The refusal of the export licence was on the grounds that the drawing was of national importance to the history of German Romanticism. In the UK only seven drawings by Koch are known to have survived in public collections.
Following the fundraising call the British Museum was able to secure finance in just three months from the Art Fund, the American Friends of the British Museum, Charles Booth-Clibborn, the Tavolozza Foundation – Katrin Bellinger, the Wakefield Trust and the Ottley Group to match the bid. It will now go on display.
The study is the first drawing by Koch to be acquired by the British Museum. It will fill a key position within the history of landscape drawing, where the museum’s holdings now span from Claude Lorrain (1600-82) to Otto Dix (1891-1969).
Dating from c.1794, the work is typical of the highly precise studies Koch made for compositions, using black chalk and ink. His depictions of Switzerland were extremely influential and helped to popularise Alpine scenery among European artists. This is a preparatory study of his famous landscape painting of Schmadribach Waterfall in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Koch came from the Tyrol, now modern-day northern Italy and western Austria. He spent much of his life in Rome where his work was much sought after by British 18th century collectors, who admired his neo-classical scenes and Italianate landscapes.