The Percy family have owned Petworth since the twelfth century. The Percys were made Earls of Northumberland in the fourteenth century, and it was the 10th Earl who began Petworth's connection with art. He was a patron of Van Dyck, and founded Petworth's art collection in the 1630s. When Petworth passed to the Earls of Egremont, they continued an artistic tradition. It was the 3rd Earl Egremont who acted as a patron to J.M.W. Turner. From 1809 Turner was provided with extensive hospitality by Egremont. Turner's biographer James Hamilton provides an imaginative description of Turner's first visit to Petworth House in 1809:
"They climb the stairs and Egremont opens the door at the top. As he does so, the light in the room, its concentration and colour - all of these are explosive, painful... This is the library, high, wide, long, every dimension in firm opposition to those of the corridors along which Turner and Egremont have just padded. And ahead an arched window fifteen feet high by nearly as many broad brings in light from the north and east, and looks out (or did then) over a tennis court, a fountain and a soaring 140 feet high spire of the Church of St Mary the Virgin. All around on shelves, on tables, are books large and small, with armchairs, a sofa or two, a large fireplace and a dozen more pictures of all sizes hung on the panelling and over the bookshelves. 'You can paint in here, if you'd like' says Egremont quietly in his soft Sussex brogue." (Turner - A Life by James Hamilton P 144)
Petworth at this time was a lively place to be. Artists were always in residence, adding to the already huge art collection. They all made the best of it amongst Egremont's many illegitimate children and their mothers. Lord Bessington wrote of life at Petworth in 1813:
"Nothing will convince Lady Spenser that Lord Egremont has not forty three children who all live in the house with him and their respective mothers... the latter are usually kept in the background, but when quarrels arose, which few days pass without, each mother takes the part of her progeny, bursts into the drawing room, fight with each other, Lord E, his children, and, I believe the company, and make scenes worthy of Billingsgate or a Madhouse." (Quoted Hamilton P115)
Turner painted scenes inside Petworth House, and also out in the Capability Brown designed park. This Capability Brown landscape had been constructed to look natural. Turner would then create his artistic impression of an already artfully constructed landscape. Reality and artifice came together in what are often considered Turner's finest landscapes. Some of these paintings can still be seen at Petworth today.
Petworth has a huge collection of art, and is actually an example of the forerunner of today's museums. From Renaissance times great country houses would often gather varied collections of objects and paintings, and country houses such as Chatsworth, Montacute, and Petworth have unrivalled collections of this kind.
Petworth was used as a filming location for the films Elizabeth the Golden Age and Barry Lyndon.
Opening Times: Opening hours for National Trust properties can be complex. Please use contact details below.
Address: Petworth House and Park, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0AE
Directions: Entrance to car parks at Petworth is off the A283 at Petworth town in West Sussex. Dogs are permitted on leads in the park, but not in the gardens near the house. There is pedestrian access from Petworth town. Entry to the park is free. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Petworth House.
Access: There is designated parking in the car park, but the path leading out of the car park is rather steep. A transfer service from the car park to the house is available. There is also a drop off point. Wheelchairs are available, but access in the house is limited. A photograph album virtual tour is an alternative. Access to the shop and restaurant is good. There is a Braille guide, and some touchable objects. There is an induction loop in reception.
telephone: 01798 342207
infoline: 01798 343929