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Cockermouth Post Article January 2015 – Turner the Artist and Cockermouth connections

Many people will have seen the film ‘Mr Turner’, but I wonder how many people realise that this famous artist had a connection with Cockermouth. The then Lord Egremont became Turner’s patron, and Turner frequently stayed at the ancestral home, Petworth House in West Sussex, which today houses a large collection of Turner’s paintings. Turner also visited Cockermouth Castle and the picture shows his painting of the castle (1810), now held by the Tate Gallery in London.

Joseph Mallord William Turner was born in 1775; William Wordsworth, then living in Wordsworth House on Main Street, was five years old. Turner was born in London, the son of a barber, and brought up by an uncle. He had some schooling but was largely illiterate. However, as the world would discover, he had an immense artistic talent and at the age of 14 entered the Royal Academy, exhibiting a year later. Turner’s focus in his paintings, of course, was the effect of light on the landscape, and colour.

George, Lord Egremont, Turner’s patron, is described as being a shy man, preferring the ‘company of artists and agriculturalists to that of grandees’ (in ‘Wyndham and Children First’), as written by John Wyndham, private secretary to prime minister Harold MacMillan (another visitor to Cockermouth Castle), and married to the late Pamela, Lady Egremont. Petworth in George’s time sounds rather chaotic:

“Under him [George] Petworth House was like a huge inn with visitors coming and going as they pleased … Guests found themselves confronted with nurses and babies, girls exercising the pianoforte, boys exercising ponies … There were artists all over the place, some doing original works, others copying Vandycks …”

Turner arrived at Petworth in 1809 where he was given a room to work in. Apparently, he kept the door locked, allowing no-one in except George, Lord Egremont. Turner could be quite sharp in his dealings with people; John Wyndham mentions an occasion when a visitor said to Turner, ‘I never see sunsets as you paint them’, to which Turner retorted, ‘No, but wouldn’t you like to!’. Nevertheless, he was a man of remarkable talent.

Just time to mention a website with a couple of film clips of Cockermouth – one from 1940 and the other from 1960 – www.huntleyarchives.com. If you look on YouTube and type in Cockermouth, you will find other interesting film clips too relating to Cockermouth.

Gloria Edwards

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