petworth: painter’s paradise

He was the perfect patron. Lord Egremont’s whims included art and artists, and Turner painted luminous works at Petworth for him. Egremont befriended and encouraged the artist for more than thirty years, from 1809 until Egremont’s death in 1837. Inside Petworth House, Turners paintings held favored places; the walls of the Red Room alone were given over entirely to thirteen of his large canvases. The series of water colors executed by Turner at Petworth may be regarded as preparation for the oil masterpieces to come such as Venice and The Fighting Temeraire, yet each one shows his deepening appreciation of the nature of light, its interpenetration of air, and its fusion with the objects it develops. ….

Sunlight and Figures in the White Library 1827 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Lord Egremont inserted inserted into the Petworth collection that he had begun to accumulate during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It includes the work of Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney, and Hopper; and both Romney and Hopper painted large groups of the owner’s blooming illegitimate children. Egremont’s taste was not invariably sound, he was a cultured dilettante rather than an expert critic, and his walls had some second and third rate productions of Northcote, Angelica Kauffmann, the anecdotal Leslie and the neo-classical sculptor John Flaxman. Clearly, Lord Egremont liked a “clever” picture and was not averse to a picture that told a story. On the other hand, he was by no means conservative; and either he or Mrs. Wyndham- to whom the poet painter once dedicated some characteristic verses- bought Blake’s vision of Hell and Paradise and a panel, painted on the front and back, by the mysterious Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli, the only man, according to Blake, who did not make him “almost spew.” Nor was Constable neglected:he visited Petworth in 1834 and came away with a large notebook filled with pencil drawings and water-color sketches.

---Turner. Jessica. 1830.---Bought from Turner by the third Earl of Egremont (the April number of the Library of the Fine Arts 1831 reported ‘it is also said that his Lordship has purchased Mr. Turner's picture of Jessica’); by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.---Read More:

But it is for the friendship he extended to Turner that this grandiose eccentric will always be best remembered. So scrupulously did Egremont respect the painters moods that he built him a studio in a convenient upper room, and agreed never to cross its threshold without ever giving a prescribed knock. Turner’s first visit was paid in 1809; and in 1830 or therabouts his friend acquired that strikingly original painting Jessica, a symphony of green and gold and rose and black, with Shakespeare’s heroine in a modern plumed hat looking through an open casement.

Music in the White Library 1827 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

If Petworth and its surroundings inspired Turner, he seems himself, in some occult fashion, to have quickened and enriched the spirit of the landscape. Today, when the sun climbs over the lake and the rolling wooded hills beyond, or when the evening light grazes the burnished surface of the grass and picks out a group of dappled fallow deer, their antlers faintly tipped with gold, at rest beneath a distant tree, the effect is so perfectly “Turneresque” that one can feel to have entered his imaginary world- the world of an artist who loved light and believed that light was a manifestation of God; indeed, that the sun was god, as he is said to have whispered in his last recorded utterance.


…Petworth’s sumptuous 720-acre parkland, designed by Capability Brown, is open to visitors all year round – as it was in the 1800s – and is free to visit. With the recent opening at Tate Britain of Turner & the Masters, a turn around the extensive grounds is a fine way to get into the romantic spirit and appreciate some of the same views that roused Turner 200 years ago.

In Turner’s lifetime, Petworth was a long, bumpy coach ride from London, so, once there, he would stay several nights. Today, you can leave Victoria station after breakfast and be at P

rth in time for elevenses, before striding out. …

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At the end of the 18th century, Petworth was owned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont, a libertine said to have sired 40 or so illegitimate children, who also had a keen interest in contemporary British art. The work of the young Turner caught his eye at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition and he commissioned him to paint a country house portrait in 1809. On his ensuing visits to Petworth, Turner delighted in the earl’s inherited collection of Old Masters, in particular a striking work by Claude Lorrain – an influence now explored by the Tate’s show.

When he wasn’t making sketches from the earl’s collection, Turner roamed freely in search of inspiration, often stepping out at sunset. From the house, there is a marvellous view of gently sloping parkland which stretches to the horizon, punctuated halfway by a large fishing lake, silvery in the September sunshine. It is an altogether brighter aspect than Turner’s moody, crepuscular studies. These small-scale gouache works painted on site foreshadow the plein air painting that exploded half a century later. Read More:

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