Open from 7 January – 10 March 2017 at Petworth House, Turner and the Age of British Watercolour offers a rare opportunity to see a major dimension of British art not normally encountered at Petworth and to consider it alongside our renowned collection of oil paintings and sculpture from the same golden period, 1780-1850.
Defined by The Sun newspaper in 1819 as ‘a delightful repast for patriotism as well as taste’, watercolour painting became a national preoccupation during these years and in this can be seen to parallel the 3rd Earl of Egremont’s particular emphasis at Petworth on British art in other media.
Outstanding works of art
This unique exhibition features 36 outstanding loans from The Higgins Museum, Bedford – one of the finest collections of British watercolours, assembled through judicious purchases made in the post-war years. For Turner and the Age of British Watercolour these are complimented by additional exhibits from the Martyn Gregory Gallery, London, a leading present-day dealer in the field.
Loans include seven compelling watercolours by JMW Turner, famously represented by twenty oil paintings at Petworth, and iconic examples by such great contemporaries as John Constable, Paul Sandby, John Robert Cozens, Thomas Girtin, Francis Towne, Richard Parkes Bonington, John Sell Cotman and David Cox, none of whom are found in the Petworth collection.
While the 3rd Earl of Egremont did not collect watercolours, in common with others of his rank in the 19th century, he did acquire major contemporary British prints for his library. Turner and the Age of British Watercolour also showcases important examples by James Gillray and David Roberts, on loan from the present Lord Egremont and never before publicly shown.
Turner’s celebrated watercolours
Among the highlights of the exhibition is one of Turner’s greatest and best-known watercolours, A First Rate Taking in Stores, 1818. This extraordinary work provides the ideal springboard from which to consider how Turner’s watercolours and oils were actually painted. It remains the only example recorded by an eye-witness who saw it being made:
‘He began by pouring wet paint on to the paper until it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was in chaos – but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia came into being and by luncheon time the drawing was taken down in triumph.’
Turner’s methods brought to life
For Turner and the Age of British Watercolour we’ve worked with two contemporary artists who have made special studies of Turner’s methods.
Mike Chaplin worked with Tate Britain on their acclaimed 2010 publication How to Paint like Turner and for many years was the expert on Channel 4’s much loved Watercolour Challenge. In an upstairs room of Petworth House, overlooking one of Turner’s favourite views – our famous park, Chaplin explores Turner’s watercolour technique and exhibits some of the copies he has made after Turner, alongside other examples of his work which reflect a long-standing interest in the earlier artist.
Charlie Cobb made the oil paintings seen in Mike Leigh’s 2014 film Mr. Turner and has portrayed the works of many other painters on both the big screen and television. He has also recently been artist-in-residence at Leighton House and the Rye Arts Festival. In the Old Library of Petworth House, used by Turner and others as a studio in the 19th century, Cobb exhibits paintings from Mr. Turner alongside more recent work of his own with parallels to Turner’s art.
You can now book tickets online for this exhibition.