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Turner’s Thames oil sketches on recycled furniture boards head back to his home 1

a panoramic painting of a river scene

JMW Turner, Walton Reach, 1805. Copyright Tate.

JMW Turner’s exquisite oil sketches of  the Thames are heading home for a spell at Turner’s House in Twickenham

The Thames was an inspiration that flowed through JMW Turner’s life, from his birth near the river in Covent Garden to the houses he lived in at Hammersmith, Brentford and Chelsea.

It is thought the River Thames even enticed Turner to buy a plot of land in Twickenham on which to build a retreat for him and his father in the 1800s. He designed the villa, Sandycombe Lodge, so that he could glimpse the river from his bedroom window.

Whilst in Twickenham Turner spent a lot of time on the Thames fishing, keeping his catch in two ponds in what was then a large, country garden. He also, of course, painted the venerable river prolifically and five of his rare oil sketches, seldom seen by the public, are now on display at his beloved villa in Twickenham.

The oils, which are being loaned by the Tate Gallery, were painted on mahogany panels in a house he rented, Syon Ferry House in Isleworth, as a retreat from the pressures of London life.

a painting across a river at sunset

JMW Turner, Sunset on the River, 1805. Copyright Tate.

a photo of a portrait of Turner in side profile against gold floral patterned wallpaper

Close up of Turner’s Portrait above the mantlepiece at Turner’s House, Twickenham. Lucinda MacPherson 2019

a painting of a scene looking across a river

JMW Turner, Windsor Castle from the River c.1807. Courtesy Tate

Although this house no longer exists, his experience there was said to have been instrumental in his subsequent acquisition in 1807 of a piece of land in Twickenham on which he later built Sandycombe Lodge to his own designs, and which is now open to the public.

As well as dreaming of his new Thameside dwelling, during Turner’s time in Isleworth he also acquired a little boat and modified it for use as a floating studio from which he could record first-hand impressions of the river. The exhibition features five stunning examples from this extraordinary series of work on small panels of wood which were portable yet solid, making them easier to work on in situ.

Unusually, they are painted on mahogany veneer and it is thought that Turner, who is known for improvising with materials, may have made them using recycled bits of furniture. More typically, Turner created many pencil sketches in situ which he collected in notebooks for reference when making larger, finished works in oils and watercolours in the studio.

He declared however that painting out of doors was a waste of time, as it was easier to mix the paints and work on canvas indoors. This is why the five oil studies in the exhibition are so rare and yet affirm the importance he placed on accurately depicting his favourite river.

These smaller pieces would have helped him to more convincingly evoke the mood of the Thames in larger finished oil paintings back in his studio in Queen Anne Street.

While his monumental and sometimes allegorical depictions of the Thames were refined through the lens of the 17th-century landscape masters he admired, such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, it is in the fresh oil sketches displayed in this intimate exhibition that we see Turner at his most spontaneous and responsive to the natural potential of a landscape which was particularly special for him.

Turner’s House hopes the exhibition will be the first in a series exploring Turner’s relationship to West London and his Sandycombe years.

a painting of a river scene with trees in the foreground

JMW Turner, On the Thames c.1807. Courtesy Tate

a photo of a sitting room with a bay window and single chair

Sitting Room at Turner’s House. Anne Purkiss for Turner’s House Trust

The exhibition has been made possible through The Ferryman Project: Sharing Works of Art which is supported by National Lottery players through The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the John Ellerman Foundation and the Art Fund. 

Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings opens on January 10 until March 29 2020. For the duration of the exhibition Turner’s House is open Wednesday-Sunday: 12–3pm: Self-guided visits; 3-4pm: Guided Tour


Turner's House, Twickenham

Twickenham, London

In 1813 England's great landscape painter J.M.W Turner built a small villa, Sandycombe Lodge, on a large plot near the Thames at Twickenham. Here, the painter became an architect. With the help of Heritage Lottery funding, Sandycombe Lodge has been carefully restored to allow visitors to experience Turner's House as…

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