“Painting can never show her nose in company with architecture but to have it snubbed,” J.M.W. Turner once said. As a young man, the artist studied architecture and worked for a while as a draftsman. But after the established architect Thomas Hardwick advised him to paint instead, he did, going on to become one of his country’s most esteemed artists. That didn’t soothe his regret, though; later in life, Turner declared he wished he’d stuck with architecture.
The artist’s young love did find fulfillment in one structure he designed and constructed at the age of 37: the Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, where he lived with his aging father between 1813 and 1826. The modest villa was located near the Thames Valley, an ancient, romantic landscape ideal for sketching that inspired many of his works (as well as that of contemporaries like Alexander Pope).
Unfortunately, little is left of the scenery he loved. Twickenham, formerly lush, is now an uninspired suburb. Sandycombe Lodge — the only fruit of Turner’s early ambition — has been ravaged by the passing of time. Damp decay, cracking pipes, and collapsing ceilings threaten its future.
Enter the Heritage Lottery Fund, which recently awarded the trust that now maintains the Grade II listed house a £1.4 million (~$2.1 million) grant to restore it. After renovations are completed next year, the house will be open to the public 46 weeks a year, versus the brief afternoon every month for which it previously unlocked its doors.
“We are just so excited, it is superb news — this house is a national treasure, but it is in a sad, sad state, and if we had to get through another bad winter without knowing whether we could go ahead with restoration, it would be truly worrying,” trustee Rosemary Vaux told The Guardian. “The months of torrential rain last winter did terrible damage, and we were really fearful of the consequences if we had another prolonged spell of such bad weather.”
The picturesque home has been brutalized by the region’s wet weather. Its overloaded rainwater disposal system will need to be reconstructed, along with the basement’s crumbling ceiling. Invading roots of yew trees, which have brought with them rot and mold, will have to be removed.
The project will also do away with Victorian-era additions that transformed the small house into a gaudier version of itself, “[spoiling] the balance of the original design,” as the trustees explain. By removing upper stories added by later owners to the house’s wings, workers will return the structure back to something that Turner would more readily recognize. The conservationists hope that in the restoration process they’ll be able to find evidence of the paints Turner used in the house. They also plan to decorate and furnish it according to the fashions of Turner’s day.
“The restoration of this modest, classical property introduces us to Turner, the architect, adding a whole new dimension to our understanding of this great artist,” said Blondel Cluff, chair of the London committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund. “Sandycombe allows us all to literally walk inside the work of one of the world’s leading artists.”