HERITAGE Living with Turner

The great painter’s country home has been restored to the way he knew, thanks to the research and skill of a team of master craftsmen and women. Simon Tait reports

Sandycombe Lodge has been a little-known piece of history tucked away in a south-west London suburb. It was built

by J M W Turner, the painter, to be his country home, and from it he could see Richmond Hill and the Thames. He designed it himself with the help of his friend John Soane, building it in 1813.

Now, after facing dereliction, local enthusiasts have saved it and it is now restored to the way Turner knew it and open to the public.

He spent the summers there, alone except for his old father who acted as a kind of housekeeper, and painted some of his famous river studies from there. Turner lived in the lodge until 1826 when his aged dad became too in- rm, and they moved back into central London.

The house remained in private ownership and was acquired by the historian Harold Livermore in 1947 who lovingly kept it unspoiled. He died in 2010 leaving it to the Turner’s House Trust he’d set up, but it was badly in need of restoration.

Then ve years ago the charitable foundation The Pilgrim Trust stepped in with a pragmatic use of its own lim- ited resources and a strategic £15,000 to help solve a chronic damp problem – emergency work was needed to stop the scullery ceiling collapsing - and the Turner’s House Trust launched a restoration appeal for £2m to restore Sandycombe Lodge and return it to its original appearance.

So badly had Sandycombe Lodge’s fabric deteriorated that in 2013 it was placed on Historic England’s Register of Buildings at Risk, but now, after a key Heritage Lottery Fund grant and a £2.4m year long restoration and conservation programme, the place beside Turner’s beloved Thames is back to its 1813 appearance.

Using the evidence of Turner’s own sketches and an 1814 drawing by Wil- liam Havell, additions and alterations have been removed and the original external brick fabric has been revealed.

A meticulous scrutiny of the con- struction of this Grade II* listed building revealed unexpected research into the internal fabric, wall coverings and colours.

“This little house is of worldwide importance as a work by J.M.W. Turner, England’s greatest landscape artist and, unusually, it is one in three dimensions” says Catherine Parry- Wing eld, chairman of the Turner’s House Trust who led the campaign. “We are proud that, thanks to the sup- port of our major funder the Heritage Lottery Fund, other foundations and local supporters, we have been able to conserve Sandycombe Lodge for the bene t, enjoyment and education of future generations.

”We are also immensely grateful to the previous owner, Professor Har- old Livermore who left the house to the Trust so that it could be appreci- ated by generations to come.”

Some fascinating objects were found within the wall space of the rst oor corridor, including frag- ments of children’s drawings and toys from a later period than Turner’s occupation, but most interesting was a scrap of early wallpaper, incomplete and very dirty, but suf cient to be con rmed as of the period of Turner. Based on this scrap, hand blocked wallpaper has been hung in the large bedroom, meticulously recreated by Robert Weston.

Paint historian Helen Hughes’s detailed analysis of many layers of paint and paper has determined the dining room’s original wall colouring and the delicate painted marbling of the vestibule, corridor and staircase. Where paint colours were not retriev- able appropriate early 19th century shades have been chosen.

Conservation on the laylight above the stairs was expertly carried out by Holy Well Glass and, with its coloured glass now in full glory, is unrecognisable from the dirty glass across which squirrels used to scamper.

There are new features to help ex- plain the house, hidden inside older features. The longcase clock in the dining room uses digital technology to provide a soundscape of chatter among the friends known to visit Turner for shing and picnics. A telescope recreates the view that Turner would have seen from his bedroom window. A view from the Little Parlour window superimposed on the window gives the rural view that Turner would have gazed out upon.

Following conservation, a number of prints after Turner’s paintings have been hung, including a number from his celebrated Liber Studiorum series. Many of these come from the late Pro- fessor Livermore’s collection, which he left to Turner’s House Trust as part of his bequest; others come from a subsequent generous donation.

Early 19th century furniture has been bought, following hints in the inventory of Turner’s London house after his death in 1851. Turner owned ship models, and two splendid examples made by Kelvin Thatcher are now in place in the sitting room where he had them. In Turner’s inventory a "quantity of old chintz" is listed. With expert help from Annabel Westman and craftsmanship from Ian Block, red moreen curtains hang in the dining room. Glazed cotton cur- tains for the bedroom are of the same fabric used on the hangings of the bed, with its handsome mahogany Regency bedposts.

Landscaping is now underway in the garden and will be completed in September, giving a avour of the garden that Turner and his father might have enjoyed.

“We are delighted that Turner’s country villa, Sandycombe Lodge, has opened to the public, beautifully restored” says Alex Farquharson, director Tate Britain. “Turner’s paintings and drawings housed at Tate Britain show what this great artist produced throughout his proli c life- time, but the lodge will reveal a more intimate and domestic side of his im- portant and complex story.”

features of Turner’s architectural vision, says Gary Butler of Butler Hegarty Architects, the appointed conservation architect. “As our ‘creative demolition’ work progressed we revealed clear evidence of the earlier form of the building. Scars in the brickwork illustrated the location and pitch of lower roofs. Varying brick- work confirmed our initial suspicion of later changes and structural addition” he said.

“But the first real surprise occurred once we took down the ceiling of the rooms in the raised wings, revealing the original flank walls of the main block of the house, which had remained hidden for almost 200 years.”

Instead of finding render or stucco, the brick-facing walls had been neither rendered nor painted, and he later found the same type of work behind the plaster finish of the upper rooms and wings. “In addition, the uncovered brickwork was consistently multi- coloured, with a predominant deep plum-coloured brick, more typical of late 18th century brickwork and similar to bricks used by Turner’s friend Sir John Soane for numerous projects and the courtyard of his own house, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields” he added.

As well as the surprising exterior ‘reveal’, the internal features have been fully restored, following intensive research into the internal fabric, wall coverings and colours.

“This little house is of worldwide importance as a work by J.M.W. Turner, England’s greatest landscape artist and, unusually, it is one in three dimensions” says Catherine Parry-Wingfield, chairman of the Turner’s House Trust who led the campaign. “We are proud that, thanks to the support of our major funder the Heritage Lottery Fund, other foundations and local supporters, we have been able to conserve Sandycombe Lodge for the benefit, enjoyment and education of future generations.

”We are also immensely grateful to the previous owner, Professor Harold Livermore who left the house to the Trust so that it could be appreciated by generations to come.”

Some fascinating objects were found within the wall space of the first floor corridor, including fragments of children’s drawings and toys from a later period than Turner’s occupation, but most interesting was a scrap of early wallpaper, incomplete and very dirty, but sufficient to be confirmed as of the period of Turner. Based on this scrap, hand blocked wallpaper has been hung in the large bedroom, meticulously recreated by Robert Weston.

Paint historian Helen Hughes’s detailed analysis of many layers of paint and paper has determined the dining room’s original wall colouring and the delicate painted marbling of the vestibule, corridor and staircase. Where paint colours were not retrievable appropriate early 19th century shades have been chosen.

Conservation on the skylight above the stairs was expertly carried out by Holy Well Glass and, with its coloured glass now in full glory, is unrecognisable from the dirty glass across which squirrels used to scamper.

There are new features to help ex- plain the house, hidden inside older features. The longcase clock in the dining room uses digital technology to provide a soundscape of chatter among the friends known to visit Turner for fishing and picnics. Turner liked to gaze at the view from his bedroom window through a telescope, and there is one in position once more. A view from the Little Parlour window superimposed on the window gives the rural view that Turner would have gazed out upon.

Following conservation, a number of prints after Turner’s paintings have been hung, including a number from his celebrated Liber Studiorum series. Many of these come from the late Professor Livermore’s collection, which he left to Turner’s House Trust as part of his bequest; others come from a subsequent generous donation.

Early 19th century furniture has been bought, following hints in the inventory of Turner’s London house after his death in 1851. Turner owned ship models, and two splendid examples made by Kelvin Thatcher are now in place in the sitting room where he had them. In Turner’s inventory a ‘quantity of old chintz’ is listed. With expert help from Annabel Westman and craftsmanship from Ian Block, red moreen curtains hang in the dining room. Glazed cotton curtains for the bedroom are of the same fabric used on the hangings of the bed, with its handsome mahogany Regency bedposts.

Landscaping is now underway in the garden and will be completed in September, giving a flavour of the garden that Turner and his father might have enjoyed.

“We are delighted that Turner’s country villa, Sandycombe Lodge, has opened to the public, beautifully restored” says Alex Farquharson, director Tate Britain. “Turner’s paintings and drawings housed at Tate Britain show what this great artist produced throughout his prolific life- time, but the lodge will reveal a more intimate and domestic side of his important and complex story.”

 

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