Country mouse at Petworth House

 There’s a reason to cry over spilt milk when it goes over your hostess’s beautiful silk dress. How do you make amends? If you’re J. M. W. Turner, you paint a charming painting of the unfortunate scene in gouache and give it to her. It’s one of the delightful works by the artist on display in a special exhibition, ‘Turner’s Sussex’, presently showing at Petworth House.

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The great man was a regular visitor there in the 1820s and 1830s as a guest of his patron, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, who championed British art during its golden age. The 3rd Earl was liberal in his largesse towards artists of the time. They could come and go as they pleased, staying in the opposite end of the house to the family, and Petworth became a kind of salon for all the talents, including Beechey.

They gathered in the large, light-filled studio for work and entertainment. ‘Goodness knows what they got up to,’ exclaimed our informative guide. The 3rd Earl was relaxed about how they conducted themselves, but he hated anyone being too grateful. Those deemed too obsequious were not asked back. I have a shooting friend who asks me each year to join him on the best shoot in Sussex, but forbids thank-you letters. The really generous don’t need to be reminded of it.

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