New lease on painter's house

J.M.W. Turner’s Sandycombe Lodge near London will undergo a $5-million renovation.
J.M.W. Turner’s Sandycombe Lodge near London will undergo a $5-million renovation. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

British artist J.M.W. Turner's house, which has fallen into disrepair, will be renovated

LONDON • J.M.W. Turner may not have been as naked in his appetites as his character was in Mike Leigh's 2014 movie, Mr Turner, but the British landscape painter certainly enjoyed life.

Besides a London mansion, Turner kept a modest country house 16km south-west of the city in Twickenham that he designed, where he and his father relaxed, fished and entertained.

Turner sketched abundantly in the area and incorporated views of it in paintings such as the giant England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday (circa 1819), now at Tate Britain here.

Nearly two centuries later, the simple white country house that he named Sandycombe Lodge, a narrow two-storey edifice with a gable roof and one-storey wings, has fallen into disrepair.

It’s not going to fall down in the next one or two years, but it’s dilapidated to the point where continued occupation would be difficult.

MR GARY BUTLER of Butler Hegarty Architects, the firm leading the renovation of J.M.W. Turner’s house

Water is seeping in, parts of the ceiling are collapsing, roof slates are loose and the basement has been damaged by flooding.

Now, with contributions and pledges from private donors and the government-run Heritage Lottery Fund, the house is about to undergo a year-long renovation that will cost £2.4 million (S$5 million) according to the non-profit Turner's House Trust, the property's owner and administrator.

After the renovation, the house will re-open as a tourist attraction.

About £154,000 remains to be raised and to help close that gap, the Turner's House Trust is holding a sale on Tuesday of donated works by artists, including Christopher Le Brun (president of the Royal Academy of Arts), at Dreweatts auctioneers, outside London.

"The house has very much reached the point where it needs a major overhaul," said Mr Gary Butler of Butler Hegarty Architects, the firm leading the renovation.

"It's not going to fall down in the next one or two years if you did nothing, but it's dilapidated to the point where continued occupation would be difficult."

Before closing in November, Sandycombe Lodge was open to visitors one afternoon a month.

The house is a small gem that recalls the 19th century in much the same way as the London-home- turned-museum of architect John Soane, a friend of Turner's who visited him often.

Scholars have discerned Soane's influence in the lodge's design.

In both houses, for example, the entrance vestibule has a winding staircase with a decorative glass window set in the roof as a skylight.

Twickenham and its environs in Turner's time were bucolic areas with sweeping landscapes and river views, dotted with the retreats of the wealthy.

Turner used his lodge to escape the stresses of London and to get away from his relationship with a widow who was also the mother of his two daughters.

Twickenham was "a place of experimentation" as much as a refuge for Turner, said Ms Amy Concannon, one of the curators of the 2014-2015 show Late Turner: Painting Set Free at Tate Britain, as she leafed through a fragile sketchbook during a recent interview at the museum.

"He's the architect of his own vision there."

Turner's 1809-1812 drawings for the house are kept in several sketchbooks at Tate Britain.

They show his doodling in pencil or ink to tweak the design and his tallying of building costs in the margins. The ground floor of the house has a central drawing room and wings that contain a small dining room and a parlour.

The basement holds an antiquated kitchen with an adjacent pantry and a blackened coal chute.

Turner's upper-floor bedroom overlooks a garden that once spanned nearly three acres and included a pond where he kept fish that he caught in a nearby river.

This lodge has changed hands many times; during World War II, it was a place where pilots' goggles were made.

In 1947, it was bought by Professor Harold Livermore, a scholar of Iberian history and language, who lived there until he died in 2010.

The effort to renovate the house, which Ms Catherine Parry-Wingfield, chair of Turner's House Trust, began soon after the professor's death, received a lift in 2013 when English Heritage (now Historic England) placed the building on its Heritage at Risk register.

Mr Butler said that he and his team were going back to Turner's original design by removing the 19th-century extensions to the wings and trying to match the home's first coats of paint.

The restored house will be "cleaner, less damp and, we hope, quite an atmospheric place", Ms Parry-Wingfield said.

Once the house is restored, its future will not necessarily be assured. Ms Parry-Wingfield estimated that it would cost £150,000 each year to run, with revenue from entrance fees covering 80 per cent of the cost.

No other government subsidies will be forthcoming, she said, so the remainder must be raised from outside sources.

British heritage officials said that they were confident the house would draw visitors.

Other artists' houses in the area are now museums, including the home of the painter William Hogarth in Chiswick, but none can trace its origins to a figure as significant as Turner, they said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'New lease on painter's house'. Print Edition | Subscribe