LONDON – Excitement continues to mount ahead of the sale of J. M. W. Turner’s exceptional late work Rome, from Mount Aventine, in the Old Master Paintings sale at Sotheby's London on 3 December. Considered one of only a handful of great Turner oil paintings still left in private hands, the work was originally created for Hugh Munro of Novar, one of Turner’s most significant patrons whose fortune was won in the East – and particularly in India. 


What may not be widely known is that Turner’s exposure to India goes beyond his association with Munro. Through the Royal Academy, the artist befriended Thomas and William Daniell, whose journeys in the Subcontinent and resulting aquatints and oils representing ‘Oriental Scenes’ doubtless nurtured Turner’s own interest in India, which is obvious in works like The Siege of Seringapatam, now in the Tate. Turner’s depiction of the important military victory unsurprisingly champions a dominant atmospheric landscape with inviting glimpses of Indian architecture. 

Despite Hugh Munro reportedly organising a voyage for himself and the artist, Turner never visited India. In fact, the closest he got to the Subcontinent was on a hill above Munro’s Novar Estate, where his uncle, Sir Hector Munro, commemorated his conquest of Negapatam by erecting a large reconstruction of the gate of the Indian city, which still towers over the surrounding Highland landscape. Turner’s illustrations of Indian scenes are a tantalising glimpse as to what might have been achieved had the journey taken place. 

Eliza Chubb is a specialist in the Indian Art department, Sotheby’s London.