David Attenborough and JMW Turner have both secured their places in the UK’s history. Attenborough has become a beloved natural historian and broadcaster, through a number of films and documentaries, including the BBC’s The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, for which Attenborough did voice over work. Turner, on the other hand, was a prominent Romantic artist and one for which England has become well-known. In fact, in February, Turner will not have a place at Tate and the National Gallery, but also on the £20 note.
Besides their accolades as prominent people in British history, the pair’s paths have crossed recently in Twickenham, at Sandycombe Lodge. The unassuming brick cottage was built by Turner in 1813 when Twickenham was still rural. Having acted as a country retreat for the artist, the house was added onto over the years and eventually fell into disrepair, according to Ricky Pound, the director of Sandycombe. Following a £2.4 million restoration, the house was reopened to the public and now, a series of works by Turner have gone on view and Attenborough, himself, was there to open the exhibition.
Tate has loaned five oil sketches to Sandycombe marking the first time that works by Turner have been displayed at his one-time residence since 1826, an occasion that Pound described as ‘incredibly special.’ The paintings are of the Thames, which was a recurring theme in Turner’s works. In fact, at Sandycombe, Turner had a telescope that allowed him to see the river while in the comfort of his home, and today, a similar style telescope is at the house for guests to see. The paintings included in the exhibition, titled ‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings,’ were chosen specifically for their subject matter and are works that have rarely been seen by the public.
Turner grew up on the west side of London, having lived in Brentford, Isleworth, and Hammersmith before designing and building Sandycombe in the early 1800s. When his father, William, retired, he lived there with his son until his health worsened. In 1826, Turner sold the property to help care for his father and after that, the footprint of the house changed as subsequent owners made it their own. When the house was restored, it was restored to its original self and opened in 2017 as a heritage attraction.
‘I’m a west Londoner,’ said Attenborough on the occasion of the exhibition’s opening. ‘I was born a few miles from here and I live a few miles from here and have done for getting on 70 years. So to discover this little jewel that hasn’t been recognised until local experts and enthusiasts got together and restored it in such detail, with such care … it is a little gem.’
‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings’ is on view at Sandycombe Lodge through March 29th. The exhibition is included with entrance fee for the house.