'Mad Jack' Fuller and the Land of 1066 - Four Sussex views by J.M.W. Turner, R.A.
Lots 193 - 196 in this sale comprise four large-scale watercolours, painted by J.M.W. Turner between 1810 and circa 1823 and which represent four great East Sussex landscapes: namely Battle Abbey, Pevensey Bay, and the castles of Herstmonceux and Pevensey. As well as depicting places of great historical importance and natural beauty, these four watercolours have a very fine provenance and have not appeared on the market since 1908.
The county of Sussex, located in the south of England, was a region that Turner came to know well. In fact - so seduced was he by its long coastline, its rolling landscape, its history and its people – that of all of the English counties, only Kent and Yorkshire proved to be more fertile hunting grounds for him.
In April 1810, Turner was thirty-five years old and, having been a full member of the Royal Academy for eight years, was by then considered to be the pre-eminent landscape painter of the day. In that month, he was approached by John Fuller, M.P., who enquired as to the possibility of Turner travelling to the village of Brightling in East Sussex, in order to create an oil painting of his home, Rosehill Park. Turner accepted the commission and, although the precise length of his stay is not known, it seems that he may have stayed in East Sussex for about a month, from the middle of June. His host was a bachelor, who was commonly known as ‘Mad Jack Fuller’ on account of his eccentricities. He was an enthusiastic builder of follies as well as the Member of Parliament for East Sussex, a position he held until 1812, whereupon he was forced to retire from politics, having insulted the Speaker of the House, while intoxicated. He was immensely wealthy and a major landowner in both East Sussex, where his interests lay within the local iron-smelting industry, and Jamaica, where he possessed profitable rum distilleries and sugar plantations.
While in Sussex, along with making preparations for the commissioned oil painting of Rosehill Park, Turner also explored the surrounding area. He visited Fuller’s neighbours at Ashburnham Place, Beauport House, Crowhurst Park and Heathfield Park, as well as conducting sketching trips around the Vale of Pevensey and beyond. On his return to London he carried with him a raft of pencil sketches, many of which would, over the coming years, be used as starting points for finished watercolours.
The first of these to be completed date to 1810 and depict Ashburnham (University of Liverpool), Beauport (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard), Rosehill (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Battle Abbey (lot 196). Fuller would eventually acquire them all, but in the first instance, he took these four watercolours from Turner on loan for the comparatively princely sum of 100 guineas, and then employed the printmaker, J.C. Stadler, to engrave them. When, in circa 1812, these engravings were finished, Fuller enjoyed presenting them as gifts to his friends.
Over the following dozen or so years, ‘Mad Jack’ continued to patronize Turner and in 1815 he financed a project which saw the line-engraver, W.B. Cooke, make a series of prints after other watercolours from Fuller’s collection. This set of engravings was to appear in three parts, the first of which was published in 1820 under the title of Views of Sussex. Amongst the works chosen to be included was Turner’s, circa 1813, Pevensey Bay from Crowhurst Park (lot 193).
Following this publication, Turner, Cooke and Fuller planned a sequel, which was to be marketed under the title Views at Hastings and its Vicinity. Although this scheme was never realized, Hurstmonceux Castle (lot 194), which dates to circa 1813 and Pevensey Castle (lot 195), which was painted in circa 1823, are thought to have been ascribed to this project.
In total, John Fuller acquired thirteen watercolours by Turner and two of his oil paintings. He was a loyal supporter of the artist and can be seen as an important early patron. After his death in 1834, his collection passed to his nephew Sir Peregrine Fuller Palmer Acland, 2nd Bt. (1789-1871). He in turn gave the works to his daughter, Isabella, who had married Sir Alexander Hood, Bt. (1819-1892) and who later took the name Acland-Hood. The watercolours then descended to his son Sir Alexander Fuller-Acland-Hood, 1st Baron St Audries (1853-1917), who sold them at Christie’s on the 4 April 1908. On that day the present works were acquired by Agnew’s, London, on behalf of the current owner’s father-in-law, and have therefore remained with that
family for well over one hundred years.
The present watercolour:
In this watercolour, which dates to circa 1813, Turner has depicted a vision of peace and tranquility. It is summer and the grounds of Crowhurst Park, the seat of the ancient Pelman family, bask in the early morning haze. In the foreground a flock of sheep relax in the sun and Turner has increased the sense of lethargy by placing abandoned agricultural tools - two spades and a wheelbarrow - before them. The house itself stands to the left while, away in the distance, beyond a coppice of ash trees and farmland, Pevensey Bay sweeps round to the iconic Beachy Head.
Just as Pevensey Bay had been the landing place of choice for William the Conqueror in 1066, there were fears in 1813 that Napoleon would launch an invasion of his own. Turner’s contemporaries would have been acutely aware of this and would, perhaps, have been reassured to see that he carefully included a number of Martello towers which, facing out to sea and France, were a vital defensive chain against the threat of attack.
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