AN early Turner masterpiece is set to go on display in Colchester after a consortium of museums stepped in to save it.

Norfolk Museums Service led the campaign to keep Walton Bridges in the UK after teaming up with Colchester and Ipswich Museums.

Originally sold at auction at Sotheby’s in July 2018, a temporary export bar was placed on the masterpiece due to its cultural significance to the UK.

The 1806 work is believed to be the first oil painting that Turner created in open air - a practice which was to become an important element of his future work.

The painting shows the double-span bridge that ran across the Thames between the locks at Sunbury and Shepperton in Surrey.

The purchase of Walton Bridges was boosted by a £2.1million grant by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Now, heritage chiefs are planning a regional tour for the work along with school workshops and learning programmes curated by community groups.

The painting will go on display in both Colchester and Ipswich for the public to enjoy at a future date.

Walton Bridges will act as a focal point for a wide-ranging and imaginative four-year programme of exhibitions, learning and public engagement across the East of England.

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery will be the first stop for the painting from September 2019.

It will then go on tour around the region, with exhibitions planned in Kings Lynn, Ipswich, Colchester and Great Yarmouth over the next three years before the painting goes back on permanent display at Norwich Castle in 2023.

The painting will also be an important focus of Norfolk Museum Service’s National Lottery-funded Kick the Dust programme.

The youth engagement initiative, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to break down barriers, and encourage thousands of young people between the ages of 11-25 to engage further with arts and culture.

Julie Young, Colchester Council's culture boss, said: “I am delighted that Colchester Museums have played such a significant part in saving this historic painting for the nation.

“We are extremely grateful for the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund without which this would not have been possible.”