Constable at ‘The House of Art’

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Petworth House in Sussex is usually associated with J.M.W. Turner's paintings, but recently, between 11th January – 14th March, it exhibited some extraordinary groups of Constable's work on paper.

We purchased a couple of 'timed' tickets for Sunday 16th February to go and view the artworks in the Exhibition Gallery within the Servants' Quarters.

Constable was one of many artists who were guests at Petworth House in the early 19th century. He visited three times between 1834 and 1835. His link with Petworth is often overlooked because the 3rd Earl of Egremont, a leading patron of British art, did not acquire any of his paintings. This recent event was the first time Constable's works on paper had been publicly brought together, showing his sketches of the time he spent in the area. He seemed particularly drawn to mills, barns, churches and cottages. He also recorded local picturesque landmarks like those of Chichester Cathedral, Cowdray Ruins, Arundel castle and Petworth House itself.

While staying at Petworth House, Constable benefited from a carriage which was placed at his disposal every day with which to explore the local landscape.

To name but a few of the exhibits, were …

'An ancient British canoe at North Stoke' 12/7/1834 'Petworth Church and windmill' 14/7/1834 'Cowdray House' 14/9/1834 'Tillington Church' 17/9/1834 'Fittleworth Mill' 23/9/1834 'Arundel Mill and Castle' 9/7/1835 'Chichester Cathedral' 18/7/1835

It was wonderful to spend time musing over the collection of this artist who enjoyed his time spent in Petworth. We know this because he commented to a fellow painter, “How I long to be again in that house of art where you are.”

The Old Library is an area of Petworth House not normally open to the public. During the exhibition however, we were allowed a viewing of this part of the house where guided tours ran every 20 minutes from 11.20 am. The Library sits directly above the Medieval Chapel, part of the Duke of Somerset's Baroque rebuilding of the house in the 1690's. The Old Library was adapted into an artist's studio by the 3rd Earl of Egremont, where many British artists had the opportunity to study Petworth's collections. Artists were able to work in a space ideal for painting – an area full of light, streaming in from the huge window.

On the stairway up to the Library we were shown a 14th century Lancet Window which was discovered during building works on the Chapel project. Thought to be originally part of a grand chamber overlooking an open courtyard and the Chapel. The Oak Hall at one time formed part of the fortified medieval manor house of the Percies which was altered a great deal in subsequent centuries.

A visit to the Somerset Room and Square Dining Room was included in the itinerary, although, as National Trust members, we had seen these on other occasions.

Afterwards we enjoyed a served lunch in the Audit Room restaurant. Upon leaving the courtyard, on the way out, we were just in time to see a horse drawn carriage about to take some people on a ride to experience a view of the grounds, in the custom of 'bygone days.'

It was a really enjoyable day and worth a visit to see Constable's haven of inspiration in the glorious surroundings of wonderful parkland with its grazing deer and garden walks.

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