JMW Turner at Petworth House

It can be overwhelming when wandering into galleries packed with art. Where to start? What should I concentrate on? I don’t want to miss anything. Sometimes to the extent that things are missed because of the sheer complexity of choice.

Take the National Trust’s Petworth House for instance. At some stage in its history it was owned by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837), who often invited his friend JMW Turner to visit and paint the house with its Capability Brown grounds and surrounding area.

Work your way through the substantial art works until you reach the back long dining room, overlooking the grounds where you’ll see a number of Turners installed at chest height in the walls. Easy to spot, easy to explore.

Here we can see how Turner moved on from his earlier ‘Claudesque’ to developing his own style as a forerunner to impressionism. In particular, perhaps take a peek at his 1828 study ‘Chichester Canal’. Notice how he captures the atmospheric light, how he adds stability and solidity to a watery, airy, foliage swamped scene with his strong verticals and horizontals – the horizon, the ship and Chichester Cathedral.

turner 2

Enjoy how he invites you in to the scene with his open form, the water drawing you in and the sunset (or sunrise – what is the direction of the Cathedral?) enticing you further.

For storyline: look at the bottom left, the small boat with folk fishing we presume. Who are they? Where do they come from? Will they catch something or go hungry tonight? Why has Turner painted them as shadows with no face towards us?

turner 3

What is such a large ship doing here? Is it about to sail or has it just arrived?

Enjoy and relax not being so swamped by so many other outstanding works of art.