Best known for his expressively romantic land and sea vistas, J.M.W. Turner (full name: Joseph Mallord William Turner) remains one of Britain’s most beloved and revered painters. And there’s much to venerate: in his active years at the dawn of the 19th century, the so-called “painter of light” produced more than 32,000 canvases, which collectively elevated the field and popularity of landscape painting. Some of these works are now due an interesting afterlife. In 1958, 50 of Turner’s delicate watercolors were bequeathed by collector Robert Wylie Lloyd to the British Museum; and in a month, 20 of those works will be minted and sold in new guises as NFTs.

What happened

The British Museum’s #TurnerNFT sale on LaCollection follows up on the pair’s first collaborative auction of 200 Hokusai NFTs. Image: LaCollection

The British Museum has once again teamed up with crypto art platform LaCollection, this time to auction 20 NFTs featuring Turner’s paintings from Lloyd’s bequest, including “A Storm (or Shipwreck)” and “The Colosseum, Rome.” The original terms of the gift specified that these paintings could not be loaned, and could only be displayed for two weeks in February or by special request — making the works some of the painter’s most rarely seen pieces.

Presumably the above conditions don’t exactly apply to digital collectibles. On February 9, LaCollection will commence its public sale of the British Museum’s Turner NFTs in three scarcity levels from Ultra Rare (encompassing nine works) to Super Rare (seven works) to the Open Edition (four works). The museum will retain one edition of each of the Ultra and Super Rare releases, prices for which are set to start at €4,999.

The framework mirrors the British Museum and LaCollection’s first collaborative auction of 200 Katsushika Hokusai NFTs in September 2021, which, according to the marketplace, reached an audience spanning 120 countries. Existing holders of the Hokusai tokens will also get first dibs on the first Ultra Rare and Open Edition NFTs of Turner’s watercolors.

Why it matters

British Museum x LaCollection Turner NFTs

Mirroring its Hokusai sale, the British Museum’s Turner NFT auction will feature three scarcity levels, with the museum retaining two editions of the Ultra and Super Rare releases. Image: J.M.W. Turner, “The Colosseum, Rome,” 1920. Bequeathed by Robert Wylie Lloyd, © 2022 The Trustees of the British Museum.

Chiefly, the Turner NFT sale represents another revenue generating opportunity for the British Museum, particularly as prolonged lockdowns have severely impacted its admissions income, which dipped by a precipitous 93 percent in 2021. However modest a sum the earlier Hokusai auction may have netted, it still demonstrates the value that could be derived from the museum’s current holdings.

In addition, this release continues to do the work of audience outreach and expansion. The focus on a legacy painter such as J.M.W. Turner hints at the British Museum’s goal of not just reaching out to the new class of digital collectors, but appealing to existing patrons of the arts. Besides attracting these traditional buyers with a well-celebrated painter, the sale serves to onboard, educate, and potentially convert them to the crypto sphere. Along the way, Turner’s lesser-seen watercolors are also set to garner fresh exposure and interest.

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