Attenborough opens Turner display in artist's former London home

Sir David Attenborough says exhibition of Thames oil paintings at restored Sandycombe Lodge pays ‘proper respect’ to artist

Oil paintings by JMW Turner have gone on display in the artist’s former west London home for the first time since 1826.

The exhibition, at the meticulously restored Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, which was designed by Turner himself, was opened on Friday by Sir David Attenborough. The broadcaster and naturalist described Turner as “one of the great figures of western painting”.

Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, west London, was built in 1813 to the artist’s designs.
Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, west London, was built in 1813 to the artist’s designs. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“I’m a west Londoner,” Attenborough said. “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.”

The presence of Turner’s own paintings at Sandycombe is an important moment that conveys “proper respect”, Attenborough said. “[Britain is] pretty careless about the reputation of artists; on the continent Turner is revered as one of the great revolutionary painters of his time.”

The five oil sketches of the Thames at Sandycombe – rarely seen in public – have been loaned by the Tate.

Ricky Pound, the director of Turner’s House, said: “A few years ago this house was essentially falling down. It has been restored beautifully and now the icing on the cake is to have original Turner oil paintings here – in a house designed and lived in by Turner himself.

“It is the first time since 1826 that Turner paintings have graced these walls – that makes it incredibly special.”

West London was very much Turner’s neighbourhood, having lived in Brentford as a child and then Isleworth and Hammersmith before his move to Twickenham.

Sir David Attenborough described Sandycombe Lodge as ‘a little jewel’.
Sir David Attenborough described Sandycombe Lodge as ‘a little jewel’. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Sandycombe Lodge was built in 1813 to Turner’s designs and was a retreat from the pressures of the London art world. It also provided a home for his father, William, after his retirement as a barber and wigmaker in Covent Garden.

Turner loved living so close to the Thames, which he considered a subject with endless possibilities. The restored Sandycombe has a telescope similar to one Turner would have used to look at the river, although the view today is obscured by housing.

When his father’s health deteriorated, Turner sold Sandycombe in 1826. Since then it has had multiple extensions, changes and exterior render to make it look like other houses in the street.

The £2.4m heritage restoration project was a rare example of a house being shrunk to restore it to its former glory. Sandycombe opened as a heritage attraction in 2017, and the house hopes to stage other Turner-related exhibitions to entice further visitors.

Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings is at Turner’s House, Twickenham, until 29 March


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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