A TURNER painting worth nearly £3.5 million is set to go on display in Colchester after museum operators secured funds to bring it back into public hands.

The early landscape by the esteemed artist JWM Turner, was bought following a campaign by Norwich Museums Service, with support from Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service.

The two services obtained £2.1 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with the rest made up by the Art Fund charity and private donors.

Altogether they matched the price it sold for at Sotheby’s auctioneers last July.

An overseas buyer had originally snapped up the item but was then barred from taking it out of the UK by the Arts Council because of its cultural value.

Although the painting is a scene of the Thames in Surrey, museum operators were keen to get the painting because there are no Turners in east of England collections.

A Colchester Museums service spokesman said: “Once a deferral has been made there is a set amount of time in which interested UK parties are able to make the acquisition.

“Typically works of art such as this are way above the budgets of regional museums and fundraising campaigns have to be initiated at short notice.

“In this case, emergency applications were made to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund outside of the normal timeframe for funding applications.

“Had these been unsuccessful, it would have been highly unlikely that enough would have been raised and the painting would have been released to the original buyer and, therefore, lost to the UK public realm.”

The painting, Walton Bridges, is thought to be the first undertaken by Turner in the open air.

Colchester and Ipswich Museums service, which is funded by the council, did not pay for the item, which dates back to 1806.

The spokesman added: “Although, with the support of the Friends of Ipswich Museum, we will likely pay a modest amount towards the display and associated activity for the painting’s display in Colchester and Ipswich in due course.

“We anticipate the painting coming to Colchester towards the end of 2020 and Ipswich the following year but nothing is set in stone as yet.”

The painting will begin its three-year tour at Norwich Castle in September.

It will also go on display in King’s Lynn, Ipswich and Great Yarmouth.

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

It led to a major series of Thames river scenes which Turner painted during boat trips between 1805 and 1806.

Julie Young, Colchester Council’s councillor responsible for culture and performance, and the council’s deputy leader, said: “I am delighted 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.”

Arts Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Turner’s magnificent work, painted at the beginning of the industrial revolution, will now continue to be exhibited and admired and will inspire future generations of British artists thanks to Norfolk Museums Service.”

Walton Bridges held the auction record for a Turner painting three times in the 19th century.