At the London auction, it sold to an overseas buyer for a premium-inclusive £3.37m against an estimate of £3m-5m.
It subsequently became the subject of a temporary export block issued by the government to give UK buyers and institutions the opportunity to match the purchase price and keep it in the country.
Fundraising efforts by Norfolk Museums Service were aided by grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Art Fund and a private donor. Together they raised the required £2.32m to acquire the work – the difference with the auction price was due to “a complex calculation regarding fees and taxes through the original sale going abroad” according to a spokesperson for Norfolk Museums Service.
The picture had a provenance to several major collectors and held the auction record for a Turner painting three times in the 19th century. Turner sold it in 1807 to Sir John Leicester – a leading collector who subsequently put it on public exhibition. It was later acquired in turn by Thomas Wright, Joseph Gillott and Lord Wantage.
It was the latter’s descendants that loaned it to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum between 1997-2017 before it was consigned to Sotheby’s.
Walton Bridges, a 3ft 1in x 4ft 1in (93cm x 1.24m) oil on canvas from c.1806, depicts the double-span bridge in Surrey that ran across the Thames between the locks at Sunbury and Shepperton. It was built in 1788 to replace a wooden structure which had fallen into decay and was painted by Turner in a number of works, including another 1840s view that fetched £7m at Sotheby’s earlier this month. The subject was also depicted by Canaletto.
The current picture is believed to have been painted by Turner following his move to Sion Ferry House in Isleworth in 1804-5. It is understood to be the first large-scale finished work completed by the artist en plain air – a practice which would become important element of his artistic approach.
Walton Bridges will be displayed first at Norwich Castle from September 2019 and it will then tour the region with exhibitions planned at Kings Lynn, Ipswich, Colchester and Great Yarmouth over the next three years, before going back on permanent display at Norwich Castle in 2023.
Arts minister Rebecca Pow said: “I am delighted that the export bar placed on the painting allowed time for the painting to be saved for the nation, and I congratulate all those involved.”
Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar said: “This is a landmark work representing a pivotal moment in the career of one of Britain’s most celebrated landscape artists. We are immensely proud to have helped save this important work – the first Turner to join a collection in the east of England, where it will now be enjoyed by a wide public from Norfolk, the UK and beyond.”