A Newly Discovered JMW Turner Watercolor Hits the Auction Block

The previously uncredited painting has been in the same private collection for some thirty years.

Watercolor painting of chapel
J.M.W. Turner, Bishop Vaughan’s Chapel, St David’s, (1795). Courtesy Cheffins Auctioneers

A J.M.W Turner watercolor that was acquired for a mere £100 ($127) in the early 1990s is now expected to fetch up to £30,000 ($38,000) when it heads to auction later this month with Cheffins Auctioneers in Cambridge, England.

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The previously uncredited painting was acquired more than three decades years ago at an auction house in Suffolk and has remained in the same private collection ever since. “The painting was hanging in our dining room for over thirty years—we periodically discussed that the picture could be by Turner but did not take it any further,” said the painting’s owner, who has chosen to remain anonymous, in a statement.

This all changed when the owner took a trip to Wales in the fall of 2022 and visited St. David’s Cathedral, the subject of the watercolor. With a renewed interest in the painting, they subsequently discovered a Turner sketch of the same study and eventually had the work verified as an original by Andrew Wilton, a former curator for the Turner Collection at Tate Britain.

Turner’s Bishop Vaughan’s Chapel, St David’s is an auction house sleeper

The rediscovered painting “is the true definition of an auction house ‘sleeper,'” said Cheffins associate Patricia Cross in a statement, referencing a term for works that have long been undervalued due to misattributions. Signed “W Turner,” the work is set to go under the hammer on March 20.

The work dates back to 1795 and was created during one of Turner’s first tours of Wales. The English Romantic artist, who would have been aged 20 at the time, was already considered a prodigy for his expressive landscapes, marine paintings and use of watercolor. His depiction of the St. David’s Cathedral chapel, built in the 16th century by Bishop Edward Vaughan, was likely created as a presentation piece for one of his patrons in London.

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“It is a marvelous example of his architectural drawing in which he demonstrates his extraordinary attention to detail and his imaginative understanding of light and dark,” said Cross. The painting’s upcoming auction follows Cheffins’ sale of another early 18th-century Turner work that fetched £93,000 ($118,000) last year, which demonstrates “that Turner’s early watercolors are increasingly coming to the fore,” according to Cross.

Watercolor of large building on grassy estate
J.M.W. Turner, Hampton Court, (1795). Courtesy Minster Auctions

The architectural study isn’t the only newly discovered Turner up for sale this month. In England’s West Midlands, Minster Auctions is offering a depiction of Hampton Court Castle in Herefordshire that was recently attributed to Turner after it was found in the attic of a nearby estate. Created around the same time as Turner’s Bishop Vaughan’s Chapel, St David’s, the watercolor was previously owned by landowner John Arkwright.

His descendants discovered the unsigned treasure, which has been verified as a Turner by Minster, while rifling through Arkwright’s files. It will go under the hammer tomorrow (March 6) with an estimate of between £30,000 ($38,000) and £50,000 ($64,000).

A Newly Discovered JMW Turner Watercolor Hits the Auction Block