AS AN artist who actively sought out idyllic landscapes, JMW Turner revelled in the picturesque plains of Sussex.

His oil paintings of Chichester canal and Brighton Chain Pier – both pictured above – are well known, but his close connection with another part of the country is perhaps less so. Petworth House in West Sussex regularly hosted Turner for long stretches at a time, and, naturally, the artist found the stately home and grounds a highly conducive place to work.

The Third Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham, held an avid interest in art and became a great patron of Turner among other visionaries. A new collection of Turner’s work is to be exhibited at Petworth House from tomorrow until March. Here, exhibition manager Andrew Loukes tells The Guide about the artist’s connections with Sussex.

“THE Third Earl was a really interesting character. Around 1800 he took the decision to collect modern and contemporary British art, which was a very unusual thing for someone of that rank to do. That coincided with the period that Turner made his name as the greatest living artist. For someone who was building a collection of British works of art, Turner was a natural choice. Turner very quickly got to know the third earl and a special relationship came about.

His first visit to Petworth was in 1809 when he was commissioned to paint a view of the house. Thereafter, like plenty of British artists who came to Petworth, he came to enjoy himself. The Third Earl had this broad approach to patronage where he not only bought works of art but he provided an environment that artists could stay and work in. For those who were interested in the landscape, it was a great attraction. Groups of artists would come and go as they pleased, it seemed.

There is no doubt that Egremont had this will to support British art, which frankly was struggling. Although the Royal Academy had been founded, most big players in terms of buying art were buying European old masters.

Egremont tried to make the point that British art was on a level with these greats. Turner’s watercolours aren’t represented in the collections here. Egremont didn’t buy watercolours, although he had lots of oil paintings and sculptures. The great thing about Turner was he was one of the leading watercolour and oil painters of his day. Very often there would be different markets for the different work he was producing. A lot of his watercolours were bought by the middle classes, as opposed to people like Egremont who was more interested in bigger scale art due to the fact he had a massive house.

Turner was a patriot. He was professor of perspective at the Royal Academy where he had to give annual lectures. In one of them, he came out with this brilliant line: “The soil is English, so should be the harvest.” In other words, he meant that while it was vital for British artists to take the example of European artists, the British landscape is as worthy of art as any European country. Nobody else at the time was painting such grand pictures of British landscape.

There was very much a link between Turner and the romantic writers like Wordsworth and Byron. When Turner gave talks at the academy, he would include quotes from romantic poetry. Later on, he went on to illustrate volumes of poetry by Byron. More generally, the thing about romantic culture is the emphasis on the self and personal experience.

With Turner and Byron, it’s all about their own experience of places. The interesting thing is that lots of things he did at Petworth were really just for his own entertainment and not for a public audience.

The masterpieces at Petworth are the Sussex oil paintings he did, including a view of Chichester Canal and the old Brighton Chain Pier. In those pictures he transcends reality – the portraits communicate with the viewer in a very visceral way. People will be able to see these paintings at Petworth but they’re not part of the new exhibition.

There’s a real contrast between eyewitness accounts of Turner’s creative process – very frenzied and chaotic – and his immense skill as a draughtsman. He had a plan, he knew what he was doing. That is rooted in his early training as a classical artist.

I think it is pretty well established that there was a progression of British artists and they all learnt from each other. What’s great is we’ve never told the story of Turner’s influences here before as we haven’t been able to. Now we can look at Turner in relation to his contemporaries and to the house.

One of the more notable influences was John Constable. He came to Brighton in the first place because of his wife’s Mariah’s consumption. She was seriously ill, and back then a bit of sea air was prescribed as one of the best remedies. Whether that did her any good or not it’s difficult to tell. Probably not, as it turned out she didn’t have much longer to live. His family rented various houses in Brighton for a number of years, but he didn’t really like it very much.

He liked the coast, which you can get from his sketches, but he was a great snob – not like Turner at all – and he found Brighton vulgar. He famously described it as “only Piccadilly by the seaside”. He did not particularly engage with the city."

Turner and The Age of British Watercolour, Petworth House, Petworth, from tomorrow until March 12. Call: 01798 342207