A first for town as Turner’s works go on show together

A First Rate Taking In Stores is one of the Turners on show
A First Rate Taking In Stores is one of the Turners on show

All nine of Bedford’s watercolours by JMW Turner are now on show together t– for the first time.

The exhibition, at The Higgins in Castle Lane, spans Turner’s career, showing the development of his unique, unparalleled work, from Cote House near Bristol, painted when Turner was aged just 16 and already a skilled draughtsman and watercolourist, to The Town and Lake of Thun, painted during the final phase of his career, when he produced some of his most innovative works.

A tenth Turner is a view of Bedford, looking west along the river towards the Swan Hotel, Town Bridge and St Paul’s Church. The work is an engraving taken from a watercolour that Turner made as part of a project Picturesque Views in England and Wales, a series described by John Ruskin as ‘the great central work of Turner’s life’. Although the project was not a financial success, the watercolours and engravings that resulted were described as “unsurpassed in their range and power”.

Also part of the exhibition is the exquisite pair of seascapes A First Rate Taking in Stores and The Loss of an East Indiaman, painted in 1818. A First Rate Taking in Stores is one of Turner’s most famous watercolours, in part because there is a rare first-hand account of its creation. Turner allowed the son of his friend and patron Walter Fawkes to watch him paint.

Fawkes described the process: “He tore, he scratched, he scrabbled at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos – but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia[sic] came into being.’

One of the highlights of Bedford’s Turner collection is The Great Falls of the Reichenbach, painted in 1804. At over a metre tall it is a spectacular exhibition watercolour and a technical tour de force

Alongside the works by Turner is an exhibition drawn from the internationally renowned watercolour collection held at The Higgins Bedford, including some of the great names from this enduring medium.

It includes works by Edward Dayes, Thomas Hearne and John Robert Cozens, who enhanced the young Turner’s vision, to his contemporaries Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman.

Entry to the exhibition is free. The opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm and Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 2 to 5pm. It runs until April 10. See www.thehigginsbedford.org.uk