A Tour of Turner’s House in Twickenham
After a £2.4million restoration project, Turner’s House in Twickenham is now open to the public.
Regarded as one of the greatest British painter of all time, Turner was a born and bred Londoner and child prodigy. He was enrolled in the Royal Academy at 14, becoming one of the most influential landscape painters in history.
Sketched self portrait, aged around 20
The Story of Turner’s House
In 1807 Turner bought some land in rural Twickenham, designing and building a house on this site for himself and his elderly father, it was finished by 1813.
Though he already had homes and studio space in Cheyne Walk and Marylebone, this was intended as a retreat. Somewhere he could sketch but more importantly relax in nature. The original plot was in fact far larger, around the length of 3 football pitches, and it allowed Turner to exercise another passion.
Though world-famous as a painter, Turner trained as an architectural draftsmen – during the early 1790s this was how you learned to draw – and he retained this fascination with architecture through his life.
Throughout the design process he was influenced by his contemporary and friend Sir John Soane. This can be seen above; the curvature of the line and pattern details of the brickwork. If you’ve ever visited Sir John Soane museum, you can keenly feel the influence inside.
Inside Turner’s House
The restoration is remarkable. It retains the feel of an early 19th century home despite the fact most objects are sourced rather than original.
The last owner of the home was Professor Harold Livermore. He was clearly a generous man because famously; ‘he offered his house to the nation, but the nation didn’t want it’!
Thankfully he wasn’t deterred and managed to secure Grade II* listing for the house in the 1950s. Today it’s owned by the Turner’s House Trust.
Extraordinary care was taken to source contemporary antique furniture that befitted the house. Though an inventory wasn’t available of Turner’s belongings, inventories from his other properties (and records from visitors) were used to best reflect what it would’ve been like.
Highlights from our tour
As is often the case in homes-turned-museums, it’s the little details that stick in your mind, here are a few of these little nuggets.
We know from a visitor’s letter that Turner kept ships models on display in his parlour. The originals are in the Tate, but these replicas were specially made. Turner would sketch these in preparation for his paintings like the famous Fighting Temeraire (1838).
One architectural feature that always stands out is a sweeping staircase. Though it’s not as grand as others I couldn’t help feeling mesmerised!
(Naturally) I looked up and spotted an original lay light, designed – by Turner – to flood the staircase with light.
Hard to photograph, but you get the idea!
Other interior design elements were the painted faux-marble walls. The below image shows how they found a clue to this design under previous layers of wallpaper.
Wallpaper was another area of Turner’s interest – who knew?! The incredibly found a scrap of a pattern and the original piece is on display;
From that they managed to commission an artist to create the unique ‘Turner Wallpaper‘!
As well as these historic touches, there are clever new curatorial decisions which help bring the house to life. These include audio/visual displays with the voices of Turner’s house guests informing you about their visit.
And visual projections, like the one of Turner’s father below. His ‘ghost’ sits in his chair, smoking his pipe.
Or you can pretend that Twickenham is still a rural haven, looking out to the countryside view Turner would have enjoyed.
One clearly obvious piece of art was a gift by (Turner Prize-winning) artist Richard Long.
Nature is also a huge influence on Long’s work and in this piece he finger paints with local Avon mud. The green wall colour also has a nice backstory, it was created according to a paint recipe written on one of Turner’s sketches. I like to think he would’ve appreciated it!
It’s the combination of contemporary skill and historic care that make Turner’s House such a delightful hidden gem. Even visiting as someone who knew his work, I left with a very different impression of the man after seeing his beautiful home.
Open to the public Wednesday-Sunday (£6, £3 concessions). 10-1pm is for self-guided visits and 1-4pm for guided tours – included in the price. All must be booked in advance, you can do that and find out more here.