Petworth House puts the spotlight on Turner in major new exhibition

In Mike Leigh film’s Mr Turner, the great artist’s Chelsea cottage was actually somewhere in Watford while Cornwall pretended to be Turner’s Margate.

Only Petworth was genuinely Petworth in the movie - a distinction celebrated in a major new exhibition which starts off the New Year at Petworth House.

Timothy Spall as Turner - Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

Timothy Spall as Turner - Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

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Running from January 10–March 11, the exhibition offers the chance to enjoy works by Turner, alongside

artwork and artefacts inspired by the themes in Mike Leigh’s award-winning film in which Petworth House played a starring role.

Curator of collections and exhibitions at Petworth House, Andrew Loukes said: “Mike Leigh’s work on Mr Turner at Petworth was arguably the most significant cultural moment at the ‘house of art’ since Turner himself was a frequent guest here in the 1820s and 30s.

“Having been a major location for the film, Petworth is a fitting venue for Mr Turner – an exhibition: a unique show of loans celebrating a great British film, inspired by its principal themes and featuring an important mix of iconic paintings and rarely-seen exhibits.”

The exhibition is the third in succession in Petworth’s new January-March slot, after Turner’s Sussex in 2013 and Constable in 2014: “There doesn’t seem to be a lot happening in those months, and before that, the House was closed during those months. But generally within the National Trust there has been a move to open more often, to include seven days a week and all-year round.”

The Turner exhibition will sustain the interest very nicely.

“Within this region there is a great appetite for art exhibitions as we know from the success of our neighbours in the area who get good audiences for exhibitions which can be quite challenging.”

It made perfect sense for Petworth to follow suit: “At Petworth, we hold the most important art collection in the care of the National Trust.”

Now they can take advantage of Turner mania: “The film was released on October 31, and we closed on November 5, and until now we have only been open for Christmas events. We have been holding back for the exhibition in January.”

The exhibition will be timed just right for the DVD of Mike Leigh’s film Mr Turner which comes out on February 23.

“The film has been hugely well received. I have seen it three times. We were a major location for it. The film crew were here back in May 2013, and they were here for just over a week. There were well over 100 of them, and they were especially appreciative of the fact we provided such an authentic location.

“For us, it was a no-brainer to welcome them here. This is a film about a national hero made by one of our greatest film-makers with Timothy Spall in the lead role. We just couldn’t say no, and the film crew treated both the film and the subject with great integrity. It was fantastic to be part of it. In fact, it was a privilege to be part of it.

“In the film, Mike Leigh did a wonderful job at distilling a very complex and multi-facetted subject into two and a half hours. There was so much the film could have focused on, but they did a great job at communicating what Turner must have been like.”