top of page
  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

A Wreath for Turner and an Unmet Deadline

Yesterday, the 19th December 2011, was the 160th anniversary of the death of J.M.W. Turner.

At a small evening ceremony a wreath was laid on his tomb in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral.

Wreath for JMW Turner in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral
Wreath for JMW Turner in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral

The wreath was placed on Turner's tomb by by Dr Leonard McComb RA and the event was organised by the Independent Turner Society.

Yesterday was also the 150th anniversary of a badly slipped deadline.

When Turner died he bequeathed to the nation all pictures, sketches and drawing remaining in his studio provided that they were kept together in a special gallery built for the purpose.

The promised gallery has never been built. Works from the bequest are currently split between Tate Britain, The National Gallery and The British Museum. The fact that his bequest was accepted, but Turner's key stipulation has been ignored for 150 years, still rankles with The Independent Turner Society.

On their website you can read a lot more about the issues. There are articles such as THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF THE TURNER BEQUEST : A MESSAGE TO THE NATION along with A DOZEN DECEPTIONS about the fate of Turner’s “bequest” for his “gallery” and there you can also find Critiques of The Clore Gallery.

Now such titles may hint at a gentle fanaticism and perhaps mild eccentricity. (The very name of the society brought to my mind The Judean People's Front and their perpetual rivals The People's Front of Judea.)

But the society do have some very well respected members and enjoy high level support. Just look at the reviews for one of the Society's major publications, The Fallacy of Mediocrity: The Need for a Proper Turner Gallery (1992).

"Your marshalling of evidence is totally convincing - the disaster of the Clore Gallery, the endless ‘economies with the truth’ from scholars & directors who should know better & the total total inactivity of the Trustees to look into it - always leaving the room saying ‘Oh we leave it to the Director.’ What are they for?” (Sir Hugh Casson, CH, KCVO, Past President of the Royal Academy of Arts)
“So scholarly and encyclopedic an investigation ... should be permanently on sale in the Tate Gallery ... Your polemic [is] wholly justified ... It was ... necessary that it should be written.” (Brian Sewell, art critic of the Evening Standard).
“Like my father [Lord Clark of Saltwood, OM], I am entirely persuaded by your case.” (Rt.Hon. Alan Clark, MP).

Well nearly 20 years after this publication there is still no purpose-built gallery housing Turner's works as he intended them to be seen. But The Independent Turner Society continue undaunted and indefatigable in their campaign for Turner's final wishes to be respected. I take my hat off to them, wish them eventual success and would like to thank them very much for the opportunity of attending yesterday's ceremony.


bottom of page