A breathtaking amount of work has gone into re-creating Sandycombe Lodge, the house that Joseph Turner designed and lived in for much of his life.
Sandycombe Lodge, the Thames-side villa designed by J. M. W. Turner, has been reopened to the public following a £2.4 million conservation programme with monies from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors.
Built in Twickenham in 1813 to the artist’s specifications, it was a peaceful retreat for him and he lived there with his father until 1826.
More recently, Grade II*-listed Sandycombe Lodge was under the ownership of Prof Harold Livermore. When he died in 2010, he gifted the house to the nation. By 2013, its fabric was badly deteriorated and it was listed on Historic England’s Buildings at Risk register; in 2016, conservation work began.
The attention to details has been extraordinary. Using Turner’s own sketches, a William Havell drawing of 1814, architectural evidence and paint analysis, the Turner’s House Trust has returned the house to its original form and decoration as closely as possible.
In one instance, a fragment of early wallpaper was discovered in the wallspace of a first-floor corridor; from this, Robert Weston re-created the design in the large bedroom.
The refurbishment of the coloured-glass laylight above the stairs by Holy Well Glass is particularly striking.
Several Turner prints have now been hung in the house, some from the late professor’s collection.
Further finishing touches enhance the illusion, with a telescope in the artist’s bedroom and a view superimposed on the Little Parlour window presenting the landscape as he would have seen it.
A brick exterior has been reinstated, which may be a surprise to those familiar with the house’s previous white render. The discovery of the original flank walls of the main block, hidden for almost 200 years, came as a surprise to Butler Hegarty Architects, too.
Outside, landscaping and planting is under way in the garden and is expected to be completed in September – although there is no possibility of restoring the rural surroundings of the early 19th century, there will be a flavour of the tranquility Turner and his father enjoyed.
The ‘before’ video, made before the funding had been secured and finalised, shows just how much has been done since:
‘This little house is of worldwide importance as a work by Turner and, after a huge amount of work and a large number of specialists, we think what we have managed to achieve is absolutely remarkable,’ says Catherine Parry-Wingfield, chairman of the trust.
Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, adds: ‘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… [It’s] a fascinating insight into his life and throwing light on his character, family and friends.’
Huon Mallalieu finds old traditions and newly discovered truths in this enjoyable retelling of Turner’s life.