Turner’s Nudes laid bare in his bedroom in Twickenham

By Lucinda MacPherson

Joseph Mallord William Turner is feted as Britain’s supreme master of landscape and maritime art. So how come an exhibition of his lesser known nudes are to be displayed in a bedroom of his house in Twickenham?

These and other intriguing questions are raised about the latest exhibition Between the Sheets at Turner’s House, which the artist designed as a rural retreat for him and his father.

The Turner’s House Trust was set up to save, restore and open to the public the elegant Regency villa, which had, shockingly, been put on English Heritage’s At Risk register.

After an award winning restoration, the early 19th century house opened to the public in 2017,  prompting Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain to declare ,  “Turner’s country villa…beautifully restored…will provide a fascinating insight into his life, throwing light on his character, family and friends. Turner’s paintings and drawings housed at Tate Britain show what this great artist produced throughout his prolific lifetime but the Lodge will reveal a more intimate and domestic side of his important and complex story.”

In line with this objective and in partnership with Tate, the Turner’s House Trust has for the last three years put on small but significant exhibitions of the artist’s lesser-known works. The first, focussing on his studies of the river Thames, was opened by world famous and much loved broadcaster and environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough;  and the second celebrated his seascapes. Now Between the Sheets, will exhibit his rarely seen nudes and bedroom scenes, in the intimate setting of a bedroom at his country retreat, providing an invaluable insight into J.M.W. Turner the man and his artistic process.
Although Turner attended life drawing classes at the Royal Academy, his figures have often been dismissed as footnotes, placed merely to emphasise the scale and sublimity of the landscapes they inhabit. The nude figures in this exhibition will give visitors a chance to reflect on the validity of this analysis and witness at close hand women he seems to have been inspired by or had a relationship with.

The studies, all from sketch books, confirm what a compulsive chronicler he was. On his travels his sketchbooks reference not only the countryside but also his sexual  encounters with women, an example seen here from his first European tour of 1802 of a Nude Girl and a Companion on a Bed, from J.M.W. Turner’s Swiss Figures sketchbook.

turner-pic-online

The studies, all from sketch books, confirm what a compulsive chronicler he was. On his travels his sketchbooks reference not only the countryside but also his sexual  encounters with women, an example seen here from his first European tour of 1802 of a Nude Girl and a Companion on a Bed, from J.M.W. Turner’s Swiss Figures sketchbook.
 
Throughout his career Turner drew interior scenes, particularly when he stayed at large country houses such as Farnley Hall and East Cowes Castle. In his observations of Petworth women populate studies of the bedrooms, or their presence is alluded to by empty beds with suggestively crumpled sheets.

For the duration of the exhibition, the main bedroom at Turner’s House has been slightly represented by unmaking the usually pristine four poster bed and ruffling the sheets, to give it a more dishevelled appearance with a Regency style shift louchely draped over, effecting his bedroom sketches.

During the house’s restoration, glazed cotton curtains were made for the bedroom in the same fabric used on the hangings of the bed, with its handsome mahogany Regency bedposts. Prints after Turner’s paintings, including a number from his celebrated Liber Studiorum series were hung on the wallpapered bedroom walls and “Turkey” rugs were placed on the floor, after mention of these in the inventory of Turner’s London house after his death in 1851.

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