Culture

27 May 2014

The Cannes Effect 

A movie about one of England’s greatest painters has received rave reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and triggered speculation as to its impact on the market for his work.

"Mr. Turner", directed by Mike Leigh, recounts the last 25 years in the life of Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose shimmering imagery captured the peace and drama of landscapes from Britain to Luxembourg to Rome and beyond.

Though Turner’s paintings stand on their own merits, he is also celebrated for inspiring artists for generations after his death in 1851. Turner started painting during his childhood in the 1780s. His early works reflect the Classical emphasis on technique, while his later works paved the way for the Impressionists of the late 19th century.

Leigh’s film, for which Timothy Spall took the best actor award in Cannes, focuses on the man behind the paintbrush, recounting his eccentricities and personal relationships. Critics and audiences alike have warmed to the film.

Turner’s legacy is one of the finest bodies of work of any artist of the past two centuries. His paintings, watercolors and prints number in the thousands, so a painting bearing his signature would not be nearly so rare as one by Van Gogh, for instance.

But the question now is how the film will affect the demand for his paintings when they come up for auction. To date, the highest auction price for a Turner piece occurred in 2010, when the Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchased his "Modern Rome-Campo Vaccino" for £29.7 million.

With fine art auction prices up by more than 80% in the UK between 2009 and 2013 and new all-time highs seemingly being set every week, the next important Turner piece to arrive on the market is likely to draw rave reviews as well, and potentially a price impacted by the film.