Chalk, Wood and Water at Pallant House Gallery

JMW Turner – Chichester Canal, oil on canvas, c. 1828 © Tate 2022

As Pallant House Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary I am returning to its current exhibition Chalk, Wood and Water.

Sussex with her distinctive chalk-cliff coastline, Weald, and the rolling lees and valleys of the ancient South Downs, is as much an idea as a place.

This beautiful, expansive, textural exhibition seeks to articulate how the Sussex landscape has inspired, and continues to inspire writers, musicians and artists lending a distinctive voice to Englishness. The exhibition charts the ways in which Sussex has been a place of creativity, exploration and retreat in the context of so many artists’ lives.

This processional show begins with Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), journeys through the 20th century and ends with the contemporary and Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956).

It is the first time that JMW Turner’s oil, Chichester Canal, has returned to the city since it was painted in 1828. On the horizon the Cathedral spire, a ship and trees are outlined against the luminous sky. The artist had strong associations with Sussex through his patron and friend the 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth who had invested heavily in the Chichester Canal. The canal was part of a network which drew a line through town and country connecting Portsmouth and London.

Turner embraced a new vocabulary in his art to describe his modern age. It is easy to forget that it was a vocabulary which many of his contemporaries found shocking.

Andy Goldsworthy’s 2002 installation Chalk in the Pallant H

The contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy was commissioned by Pallant House Gallery to produce the work Chalk in 2002. This fabulous installation was made from locally quarried chalk. The naturally weathered grey outer surface has been etched by the artist using a flint to reveal the white chalk beneath. Speaking about the sculpture Andy Goldsworthy said ‘Dig a hole up North and its black and stony and earthy. So to dig a hole in Sussex and to find chalk so absolutely pristine and pure and white…was like finding the sky in the ground.’

For me the luminous, pure white line in Andy Goldsworthy’s Chalk has an invitational quality to it reminiscent of being a pilgrim in the Sussex landscape, processional like this exhibition and life.

These two works capture in very different ways what is at the heart of this exceptional exhibition – the inspiration Sussex and her landscape has given and continues to give to so many of our nation’s leading artists.

Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water runs at Pallant House Gallery Chichester until 23rd April 2023.

Turner’s Modern World

‘The Fighting Téméraire Tugged to her last Berth to be broken up’, 1839 © The National Gallery London

Tate Britain’s current exhibition Turner’s Modern Britain could not be more timely as our nation once again turns its attention to our industrial heartlands and begins to re-imagine and re-ignite our inventiveness and manufacturing base.

JMW Turner (1775-1851) had strong associations with Sussex through his patron and friend the 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth. Turner witnessed an extraordinary period of change during his lifetime: Britain’s industrial revolution and the advent of steam power, social reform, the Napoleonic Wars and French political revolution, the Great Reform Act of 1832, and the abolition of slavery.

This ambitious exhibition seeks to place Turner’s art in the context of his times. It takes a holistic view of the influences of Turner’s broad interests on his work.

The Georgian Britain that Turner grew up in was unrecognisable when compared to the economic powerhouse this country had become by 1851. This period of startling and rapid change has resonances for our own times.

This processional show begins with Turner’s early work as a topographical watercolourist and charts his remarkable development as he found and embraced a new vocabulary to describe his modern age. It was a vocabulary which many of his contemporaries found shocking. The exhibition also highlights Turner’s evolving views towards war, peace, political reform, societal injustice and slavery. Turner celebrated the modern but did not shy away from depicting human tragedy and suffering with an increasing and enduring commitment to reform.

Turner was the first to depict rail and steamboats in significant works which startled his contemporaries. The speed of change must have seemed giddying. Today they provide remarkable evocations of not just the scenes but of the experience of encountering revolution, science, invention and steam.

Two paintings in the exhibition more than any, for me, encapsulate the procession of Turner’s life and his modern age.

‘The Fighting Téméraire’ painted in 1836 provides a muted melancholic scene. Beneath the setting sun and the early risen moon a distinguished old warship, one of the last survivors of the Battle of Trafalgar, is towed away by a steam tug representing the modern age which has made her redundant. The sky, half molten and half glassy green remains, one of the extraordinary achievements in Western art.

JMW Turner, ‘Rain Steam and Speed’, 1844 © The National Gallery London

‘Rain Steam and Speed’ provides an impression of the new age of steam engines and travel. The train appears elemental, at one with the wind and rain as it moves at speed towards us. It captures not only a visual impression but also the experience of this relatively new invention. Nature, science and industry appear united by a modern age in this painting.

Tate Britain, Covid-19 willing, will reopen today. To book tickets for this exceptional and timely show, and to find out more visit The exhibition runs until the 7th March 2021.

Skyscape at Petworth House

Paul Nash (1889-1946), The Sun Descending – Study 3, watercolour and chalk on paper, 1945 © Ashmolean Museum

This week I am visiting Petworth House in West Sussex where their latest exhibition, Skyscape, has just opened. This exhibition showcases the extraordinary breadth of prints, paintings and objects in the Ashmolean’s collections. The show represents a collaborative partnership between the National Trust and the Ashmolean which brings together two great regional collections.

The National Trust’s Exhibition Assistant at Petworth, Natasha Powell

I meet with The National Trust’s Exhibition Assistant at Petworth, Natasha Powell. She is clearly excited to have worked with the Ashmolean on this show.
Speaking about the exhibition Natasha says “The exhibition is chronological and thematic. The prints and paintings date from the 16th century to the present day. They have been chosen for their depictions of the sky in a variety of mediums and techniques. And it’s exciting to see Petworth’s collection anew celebrating the sky rather than the landscape.”
All of us have experienced and understand the wonder of the sky, the fleeting, changing qualities of light, colour and movement.

The Ashmolean’s current major exhibition in Oxford explores Rembrandt van Rijn’s early work. I am pleased to find the etching Three Trees at Petworth. It was produced by Rembrandt in 1643 just a year after Saskia, the love of his life, died giving birth to their son. The combination of etched lines captures the approach of a foreboding sky. In the foreground a man stands fishing on the banks of a river as his wife watches with a picnic. Both are seemingly oblivious to the approaching storm.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), The Three Trees, etching, 1643 © Ashmolean Museum

An artist of towering reputation, by the 1630s Rembrandt was highly respected. His fame and reputation as a painter ensured that his prints were seen as originals and not mere reproductions. Contemporary collectors of his prints afforded Rembrandt a freedom of expression which was sometimes lacking amongst the patrons of his paintings.

Paul Nash’s watercolour study The Sun Descending is painted with an immediacy which Turner would have understood. Like Turner Paul Nash worked in Sussex. As an artist Nash returned again and again to the poetry of the English landscape. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’.

Over in the main house I catch up with Andrew Loukes, the National Trust’s House and Collections Manager at Petworth, in the North Gallery.  As we re-examine J.M.W. Turner’s skies Andrew says “Very few artists can paint like Turner and get it just right with his sheer virtuosity and ability to look at the world anew.” I am reminded how extraordinary Petworth’s own collections are.
Skyscape allows us to celebrate our shared experience of the sky and offers a fresh perspective.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are once again supporting Petworth House’s exhibition program. Skyscape is a revealing exhibition and runs until 18th March 2020. For more information on the exhibition, to book tickets and for opening times visit

Turner Show Unites Twickenham and Sussex

Sir David Attenborough with exhibition curator and Turner’s House Trustee Andrew Loukes (foreground) © Turner’s House Trust/Anna Kunst.

The Sussex based art historian, Andrew Loukes has once again captured the attention of celebrities, art connoisseurs and critics alike creating a storm of interest with his latest jewel like exhibition ‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings’.

The show, which runs at Turner’s House in Twickenham until 29th March 2020, was opened by Sir David Attenborough who said that the house and exhibition was “an extraordinary journey of the imagination…this is a joy.”

Andrew Loukes, who is the National Trust’s House and Collections Manager at Petworth House curated the sell-out exhibition Mr Turner in Sussex back in 2015. Petworth’s collection has many important works by Turner where the artist was the guest of his patron the 3rd Earl of Egremont.

I meet Andrew at Turner’s House for the opening and he says “This is the first time in almost 200 years that Turner’s work has been shown at the house that he designed here in Twickenham.”

The five oil sketches are displayed in the newly opened gallery space. The exhibition marks an important collaboration between Turner’s House, Tate and The Ferryman Project. The works have been chosen for their depictions of scenes close to his house near the river. They feature landscapes painted by Turner between Isleworth and Windsor. Turner’s fascination with the Thames encouraged him to buy a plot of land in Twickenham where he built a retreat for himself and his father in the 1800s. He designed the villa so that he could glimpse the river from his bedroom window. Turner spent a lot of time on the Thames working and fishing.

Although Turner made preparatory sketches and watercolours en plein air he is best known as a studio painter. Andrew Loukes explains that “It is rare in Turner’s work to find oils made on the spot. They were painted in 1805 on a single sketching campaign. Turner rented Sion Ferry House at Isleworth. These oil sketches are some of his most natural fresh work.”
These small oil sketches on mahogany veneered panels are the perfect scale for the intimate gallery setting.

J.M.W. Turner, ‘Sunset on the River’, c.1805, © Tate, London

My eye is taken by an oil titled ‘Sunset on the River’. Andrew comments enthusiastically “It’s so beautiful that this sunset caught Turner’s attention and he captured it so convincingly on this small bit of mahogany [with] a few little brush strokes.”

J.M.W. Turner, ‘Walton Reach’, c.1805, © Tate, London

‘Walton Reach’ is similarly quickly painted, the verticals emphasising the tranquillity of the scene.

The exhibition ‘Turner and the Thames: Five Paintings’ runs until the 29th March 2020 at Turner’s House, 40 Sandycombe Road, Twickenham, TW1 2LR. For more information and to book tickets visit As Sir David Attenborough said, the house and exhibition are a wonderful journey of the imagination and a joy.

Turner and the Great Age of Watercolour at Petworth

JMW Turner ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’, c.1818 © The Higgins, Bedford/National Trust
JMW Turner ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’, c.1818 © The Higgins, Bedford/National Trust

‘Turner & the Age of British Watercolour’ has just opened at Petworth House and runs until 12th March 2017. The exhibition celebrates the British pre-eminence in the medium of watercolour painting in the mid-18th and early 19th century. The work is predominately drawn from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, and includes a breadth of artists and paintings of extraordinary quality.

Curated by Andrew Loukes of the National Trust, the exhibition illustrates the development of the British watercolour tradition century and its role in establishing our national and patriotic identity.

The story is told with JMW Turner at its centre. Although Turner painted numerous watercolours at Petworth his great patron and friend, The 3rd Earl of Egremont, did not acquire any. This jewel-like show brings watercolours to Petworth House which speak into the ravishing house collection.

The exhibition makes apparent how British watercolour painting moved from recording the topographical to a romantic, personal impression of a particular place. Many argue that the poetic landscape of the romantic imagination is born out of Constable and Turner’s work.

It was Dr Thomas Munro, the chief physician at the Bethlem (Bedlam) Royal Hospital, who identified the genius of the artist John Robert Cozens. Cozens was admitted to the asylum suffering a nervous breakdown. Munro bought the collection of his work and would share it with a generation of British artists. There are watercolours by both men on display in the exhibition.

Turner was exposed to John Robert Cozens’ landscapes whilst working at Munro’s informal academy with his friend and contemporary, Thomas Girtin, in 1795. Turner would later acknowledge the importance of Cozen’s works on his own development as an artist.

JMW Turner would famously break free from the confines of convention and tradition recording impressions of the elemental in nature.

Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall, Yorkshire, was a man with a patriotic disposition and an important patron to Turner. His son, Hawksworth Fawkes, watched Turner as he painted ‘A First Rate Taking in Stores’ and would write ‘He began by pouring wet paint onto the paper until it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos – but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia came into being’. As you observe this watercolour in the exhibition it reveals depth and detail which contrasts with the scale, atmosphere and movement which Turner’s technique creates.

Thomas Girtin ‘Jedburgh from the River’, c.1798-99 © National Trust
Thomas Girtin ‘Jedburgh from the River’, c.1798-99 © National Trust

The exhibition also looks at the topographical recording of landscapes and buildings which would come to define a sense of British identity. Thomas Girtin’s topographical study ‘Jedburgh Abbey from the River’ combines a delicacy of topographical recording with broad washes of strong colour which are typical of his later more spacious, romantic works. Turner held Girtin’s work in the highest regard.

Francis Towne ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’, c.1799 © National Trust
Francis Towne ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’, c.1799 © National Trust

The exhibition also seeks to explain the influence of recording the Grand Tour on British watercolour painting. Artists like Francis Towne, who was a contemporary of John Robert Cozens, were employed in the late 18th century to record the scenes of the Grand Tour as they travelled with their patrons. I love the delicacy of Towne’s watercolour ‘The Colosseum from the Caelian Hills’. It is based on studies in his sketchbooks from his European travels in the 1780s.

‘Turner and the Age of British Watercolour’ is a visually beautiful show which will delight you. The exhibition runs at Petworth House in West Sussex until the 12th March 2017. Entry is by pre-booked timed tickets which can be purchased online at or by telephoning 0844 249 1895. Discounted tickets are available to National Trust Members.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.