Turner exhibition at Petworth House

Turner's original painting materials among the highlights of new exhibition inspired by Mike Leigh film
Turner's original painting materials among the highlights of new exhibition inspired by Mike Leigh film

A pocket paint book, palette and brushes are going on display alongside other objects and mementoes that belonged to the artist JMW Turner.

A new exhibition at the National Trust’s Petworth House in Sussex has been inspired by Mike Leigh’s recent film, Mr. Turner, and celebrates the life and work of the great landscape artist.

Turner visited Petworth House between 1809 and 1837 as guest of his patron, 3rd Earl of Egremont, and painted many works there. The house was used as a major location for the Mr. Turner film.

Visitors will be able to see the largest group of ephemera that belonged to Turner ever displayed, a number from private collections.

On show will be major loans of Turner’s paintings in oil and watercolour, from collections including Tate and V&A.

The exhibition will also include paintings and drawings by the actor Timothy Spall, created whilst he trained for his role as Turner in the film, displayed in the Artist’s Studio, a magnificent light-filled room in which Turner and other visiting artists socialised and painted.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

· Turner’s folding travelling palette, brushes and pocket paint book with cakes of watercolour.

· The fishing rod (used by Turner in the lake at Petworth House), his coralline signet ring, gold watch, Turner’s visiting card for his home in Queen Anne Street, and a ticket for his private gallery.

· A selection of books from Turner’s personal library which demonstrate his breadth of interests, ranging from maps and travel-guides to historic and contemporary literature, alongside scientific texts and books on art. They include Turner’s copy of Goethe’s famous Theory of Colour, in which Turner has written his own notes. [3]

· A 12ft wooden easel, recently discovered in the attics at Petworth House, and believed to be the one depicted in Turner’s famous watercolour, ‘The Artist and his Admirers’. It is quite possible that the easel was used in the creation of the landscapes Turner painted for the Carved Room at Petworth House.

· A watercolour of the Chelsea cottage Turner secretly shared with his Margate landlady and lover, Sophia Booth, under the name ‘Mr Booth’. The painting, by artist Alexander McInnes, discovered on the BBC Antiques Roadshow in April 2014, has not been publicly shown since it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1852 - the year after Turner’s death.

· Rarely seen portraits of Turner, such as John Phillip’s touching late watercolour – possibly the last painted image of the artist before his death, and CW Cope’s oil sketch, one of the few visual records of Turner at work.

· Artist’s studio ‘set’, created by Suzie Davis, the designer for the film Mr. Turner. Within this scene are various props from the film, including Turner’s revolving painting table, complete with paints, brushes and bowls, and replica Turner seascapes created by artist Charlie Cobb for the film.

· A selection of actor Timothy Spall’s paintings and drawings, made during the two years he spent learning to paint and draw in preparation for his role as Turner, along with portraits of three of the actors in the film, created by Tim Wright – the artist who taught Spall to paint.

· Four costumes from the film, with their accessories, including those worn by ‘JMW Turner’, ‘Hannah the Housekeeper’ and ‘Mrs Booth’, and a short film by Mike Leigh’s production company Thin Man Films, about the making of Mr. Turner at Petworth House, with rare behind-the-scenes footage.

Andrew Loukes, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at Petworth House, said: “Turner is an important part of the story of Petworth House. We are thrilled to be able to celebrate his life and work with an exhibition exploring major themes of the film, such as travel, patronage, science, the Royal Academy and colour.

“We are indebted to Dr Jacqueline Riding, research consultant on Mr. Turner, and guest co-curator of the exhibition who helped us to amass this wonderful collection.

“We have 20 Turner paintings that reside permanently at Petworth House which visitors can also enjoy, alongside countless masterpieces by other artists in five historic show rooms, several of which featured in the film.”

Mike Leigh said: “Petworth wrote itself into the film rather than us having to think of possible stately homes; it is such an extraordinary, and rare, and rarefied place.

“When you’re in a place like Petworth and you’re saying, ‘OK, let’s pretend it’s 1828’ and you do all the research, and get into the costumes and breathe the air, you really do experience some kind of magic.”

If you’re on Twitter, keep up to date and share in the conversation about the exhibition by using the hashtag #petworthturner.

Booking is essential for Mr. Turner – an exhibition. For more information please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworthturner or telephone 0844 249 1895. Tickets are £12.

The DVD of Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner is released nationwide on 23 February 2015.

Report and pictures contributed by the National Trust.

n For our picture special and more information see pages 96 and 97.