Image: detail of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), Thomson's Aeolian Harp © Manchester Art Gallery, Bridgeman Images

J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) is widely regarded as one of the greatest English landscape painters of all time. Although he lived in London for most of his life, his favourite pastime was to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital and go in search of beautiful and tranquil countryside which he would capture in drawings, oils and watercolours. In the early 19th century, whilst living at Syon Ferry House in Isleworth, he frequently made trips into Surrey (before the county of London was created in 1889), along the Thames and the Wey Navigation.

Over 50 works and objects featured in the exhibition of which 34 were oils, prints, watercolours and drawings. Works were generously lent from Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Walker Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery. Complimenting these were a number of Turner's rare personal effects including his fishing rod, his travelling watercolour box and his watercolour palette, all kindly loaned by the Royal Academy of Arts.


J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), St Catherine's Hill, Guildford, c.1807, oil paint on mahagony veneer © Tate, London 2017

The exhibition took the audience on a historical journey along the Thames and the Wey, with popular Surrey landmarks such as Richmond Hill, Kingston, Hampton Court, the Walton bridges, Newark Abbey, Guildford and St Catherine’s Hill, Godalming, Box Hill and Hind Head Hill, all featuring in the works. To give context to how this route has changed since Turner’s time, the Surrey History Centre loaned hand-drawn and printed maps and photographs which allowed visitors to compare then and now.

Capturing Pastoral Elegance

Turner's approach to landscape painting was ground-breaking in its day. Never before had an artist of his stature roamed the English countryside so freely and frequently looking for sources of inspiration. Once Turner found a scene he liked he would often quickly sketch the landscape in pencil, watercolour or oil which gave his works a vivid freshness and softness of touch, that has been rarely rivalled. It is of little wonder therefore that he is commonly known as the 'painter of light' who strove to capture what he referred to as 'pastoral elegance'.

Many of the works the exhibition embodied this treatment of bringing elegance to the traditional pastoral scenes. Highlights included the finished oil 'View of Richmond Hill and Bridge' (1808) and the stunning large-scale finished oil 'Thompson’s Aeolian Harp' (1809) which is also inspired by the beautiful Richmond landscape. Other gems will include an oil sketch on mahogany of 'Newark Abbey on the Wey' (1807) and another from the same year of 'St Catherine’s Hill, Guildford' (1807).

18 November 2017 – 4 March 2018