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Dearly held British painting on display at the Schnitzer.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

A 19th century English landscape painting with a fascinating recent history has gone on display at the University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

"Pope's Villa at Twickenham," which was painted in 1808 by English art superstar J.M.W. Turner, caused a national flap in the United Kingdom last year after it was sold at auction in London at Sotheby's for a reported $10.7 million to an anonymous American collector.

The Brits were appalled - first that the painting's owner, the socialite Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe, would sell the painting at all, and second that it was being bought by an American. The painting had been owned by the same family for more than 180 years.

Lady Ashcombe explained that selling the painting was necessary to help maintain the family's crumbling Sudeley Castle in Glou cestershire.

Established before the Norman invasion of 1066, the castle once was owned by Richard III and later was the site of a spectacular three-day feast helping Queen Elizabeth I celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

More recently, it was thought to be the model for comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse's fictional Blandings Castle. More seriously, it was the subject of a BBC investigation, "Crisis at the Castle," exploring the difficulty faced by a contemporary aristocratic family in maintaining such a cultural landmark.

Lady Ashcombe recently has resorted to offering paid tours and renting out the castle grounds for weddings to maintain a positive cash flow. Actress Elizabeth Hurley, a friend of Lady Ashcombe's son, married Indian textile heir Arun Nayar there in 2007.

But back to Turner's painting.

As soon as it was auctioned off, the government stepped in to keep the painting on British soil.

Armed with a British law protecting the nation's cultural patrimony, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest put a three-month moratorium on exporting the painting, to give British collectors or institutions a chance to buy it themselves.

A similar sense of national outrage helped spur London's National Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland to raise 50 million pounds earlier this year to keep an Italian painting, Titian's "Diana and Actaeon," in the U.K. after the seventh Duke of Sutherland announced he needed to sell off the 16th century masterpiece to raise money.

That campaign, however, may have depleted the pockets of British art lovers, and the government OK'd the export of "Pope's Villa" in February.

"UK gives Turner the brush-off," headlined the Sunday Times.

The painting is an oil on canvas and measures about 36 by 47 inches. It's displayed here behind protective plexiglass.

It was among 140 oil paintings and watercolors exhibited last year at a monumental show of Turner's works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The "Pope" of the title is not the pope in Rome but rather Alexander Pope, the English poet and one of Turner's favorite writers.

It shows Pope's rebuilt home at Twickenham. The writer used money he made from a translation of Homer to create a grotto and gardens on the riverside estate.

The painting shows some of Turner's most celebrated characteristics, especially the bright, romantic sky and loose rendering that some have called a precursor to impressionism.

No one, including the staff at the Jordan Schnitzer, is willing to identify the painting's current owner. It will be on display through middle or late October.
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 28, 2009
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