JMW Turner: The Painter of Light’s links to Sussex

Brighton Pavilion

The artist JMW Turner’s links with Sussex have been further strengthened by the purchase of one of his works depicting Brighton.

It was announced at the end of January that the watercolour painting ‘The Chain Pier at Brighton’ has been bought by the city’s Royal Pavilion and Museums aided by grants and awards from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund respectively.

Previously in a private collection and unseen for over 100 years, the painting will be displayed in the Royal Pavilion for a short time, before becoming the centrepiece of a temporary exhibition at the Royal Pavilion in 2013.

Turner travelled widely, especially through France (where he studied at the Louvre), Italy and Switzerland and the ‘painter of light’  also made extensive forays throughout the UK.

However before his European travels began the teenage Turner discovered Sussex while staying with his relatives on the Kent coast at Margate, where he had been sent due to his mother’s illness and Sussex is depicted many times throughout his career.

Hastings inspired him to paint his 1824 work ‘Hastings: Fish Market on the Sands, Early Morning’ which was acquired by Hastings Museum in 2006.  The Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of his paintings, engravings and furniture. Many other Sussex-based works include a seascape at Rye, Arundel Castle, and another Hastings painting, this time of a shipwreck, an oil painting of Chichester Canal and a view of Battle Abbey.

Another Sussex link was created when Turner was engaged by Jack Fuller to produce drawings and watercolours of the East Sussex landscape. Turner produced 13 works between 1810 and 1818 centred around Fuller’s estate at Rose Hill and many of the sketches for these works are in Tate Britain’s collection.

It was the patronage of the 3rd Earl of Egremont, owner of Petworth House that offered Turner the opportunity of a studio from which to paint the house and grounds (and it was from this studio that he made his trip to Chichester to paint the canal).  Both the Chichester canal and Brighton’s chain pier were painted by Turner in commemoration of his patron’s investments in these forward-looking schemes.

Apparently once Turner had locked himself into his Petworth studio, only the Earl was allowed to disturb him and today 20 of Turner’s paintings hang in the house. Critics have considered that some of the Petworth landscapes are among his most idyllic and some of which were designed to be set into the panelling at Petworth House.

Many of Turner’s figure paintings are associated with Petworth, but it is his numerous sketches held by the Tate which reveal his reactions to the interiors at Petworth House and the surrounding landscape.  Some are these are simply brief outlines of a single figure, or the changing effects of light in the park, while others are more richly detailed studies of the house’s interior as well as parkland views.

The more finished sketches have been used in recent years to inform decorative schemes and the re-creation of picture hangs which Turner admired.  Turner’s figure painting series culminated in his work ‘Interior at Petworth’, thought to have been produced in response to Egremont’s death in 1837.  In the years following the Earl’s death Turner once again undertook travels in Europe, producing another cycle of late Swiss watercolours.

Turner found a great deal of inspiration in Sussex and it’s good to see his links with the entire county further reinforced by the acquisition of ‘The Chain Pier at Brighton’.

This article will be published in The Sussex Newspaper online on February 10th 2012

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One response to “JMW Turner: The Painter of Light’s links to Sussex

  1. Turner’s eldest daughter was born near Hastings. This was a consequence of his West Kent connections.

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