However, the painting, Van Tromp going about to please his Masters, Ships at Sea, getting a good wetting, will not go abroad unless an export licence can be obtained. The sale of the work, painted in 1844, will be used to establish an endowment fund for the maintenance and refurbishment of the Royal Holloway College, and the security of the other works in its collection.
Controversy has surrounded the sale since the college announced it intentions which are in contravention of the wishes of the donor, Thomas Holloway, who founded the college and gave it an art collection.
But the Charity Commissioners gave permission last summer for the sale to go ahead and appeals to the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Ombudsman failed to halt it.
Last night the sale was condemned by Peter Longman, director of the Museums and Galleries Commission, which advises the Government. 'It is a great pity that they have been allowed to sell it,' he said. 'It is in clear contravention of the donor's intentions and it is an integral part of an important collection.'
He said it was particulary sad that the painting was being sold against the benefactor's, wishes with the Government's connivance at a time when it was inviting people to make donations and gifts to galleries.
But the college said that financial concerns had left it with no other choice. The principal, Professor Norman Gowar, said: 'Naturally we are sad that we have had to make the sale at all, but the cost of preserving Thomas Holloway's main benefaction left us with no alternative.'
Dr John Walsh, director of the John Paul Getty Museum, said staff there were delighted to get the painting as Turner was not well represented in museums in the United States. He added: 'Our interest as one of the potential purchasers of the Turner was conditional upon there being no expression of intent on the part of British institution to acquire the painting.'