Turner's "Juliet and Her Nurse," perhaps the most important picture by that master still in private hands outside of Great Britain, will be sold at auction in New York on May 29.It is expected to fetch more than $1 million, making it the most expensive English painting ever sold.

The two Shakespearian characters play only minor roles in Turner's composition, Juliet and her nurse stand upon a balcony in the picture's lower right hand corner. An Adriatic sky done in blues and yellows, a large crowd of Venetians (who have gathered to observe a fireworks display), and St. Mark's Square in Venice are the painting's real stars.

Even in the 1830s, before he had developed his almost abstract style, the free coloring and brushwork of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) were wild enough to bother many English critics. When this picture was first shown, one of them objected t hat it was "out of nature" -- a remark that caused John Ruskin, then only 17, to write his first defense of Turner. There were many more to come.

The work has been consigned to Sotheby Parke Bernet by Flora Whitney Miller, honorary board chairman of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Her mother, Gertrude Venderbilt whitney, who once owned the painting, founded the museum half a century ago, and part of the proceeds of the sale will be set aside to benefit the Whitney.