Shrewsbury’s tale of the Turner

After the first year of the Shrewsbury Arts Trail was huge a success, Jessica Richards the main organiser was able to bag the special exhibition hall in the Shrewsbury Museum. It was available for 2 whole months so Jessica asked me if I would curate the show and her vision, was BIG. She wanted BANKSY, Emin, Warhol to name a few and quite simply I said, “sure, no problem!”

Before I set about asking around collectors and dealers if they would like to lend their pictures from their collections, we set looking a little closer to home and thought it would be interesting to see what Shropshire had to offer and asked the museum if we could look at their archives as adding something that belongs to the county I felt was important to bring the whole collection together and ties everything in.

One Monday morning, Jess and I headed over to he museum with Emma-Kate (The museums curator) and Fay (the museums manager) to trundle through the archives held in Shrewsbury.

I am like a kid in a candy shop when I am able to look through paintings like this and I was in my element. The paintings are all secured to a racking system that you pull out and can inspect on both sides, each painting/print has a brown label which caries its details. It contains artist name, title, circa etc etc, so we set about working from right to left and making notes on paintings we thought could work in the show…we made a note I think of about 4 that would be suitable…

After about 5-6 racks of (sorry to say) not a lot of interesting pieces, in the top left corner of the large rack there was a small badly presented watercolour, which I had instantly overlooked. Fay said, “this is our Turner”.  To be honest it took me a second to take in what she had just said. Jessica was the one who actually took note and started to get quite emotional that right in front of her was a original painting by one of the worlds most celebrated artists of the 19th century.

The watercolour is small but perfectly proportioned and of course caries all the attributes of an early Turner. The most significant thing to me was that the scene was of our hometown, Shrewsbury. It had completely left me mind that Turner had visited the area, I vaguely remember he did a painting of Ludlow Castle but that was a distant memory.

I asked Fay, “how come this isn’t out on public display for all to see?”, Fay answered “due to it being a watercolour we want to keep it preserved as much as we can”, to be fair it was badly framed and the glass wasn’t museum quality. I believe that when it was purchased by the V&A it hadn’t been reframed then, this might be going back to the early 70’s where I’m not sure that this type of glass was available then and possibly to keep them at their best, they were displayed in dark room out of the way of sunlight to preserve them.

I believe he painting may have been out once of twice for special exhibitions but never really on full public display due to the conservation of the piece.

Both Jessica and I said, “well, that’s a must!”


For me one of the most important things about having a gallery in visual impact, and unfortunately, the current frame of the Turner just didn’t do it justice at all. To be honest, it made it look a bit, meh!

I asked the museum that we would love to include it but feel like the frame needs to have higher impact, the other important element of this was that the watercolour was preserved and on permanent display for the county and visitors to see the importance Shrewsbury had at the time with great artists visiting and documenting our history. I felt so strongly about what this new frame would do for the painting I mentioned, even if I pay for the frame myself. Little did I know they would actually take me up on my offer!

They museum almost gave me free rain, and trusted my expertise! BIG responsibility on my end!

I work with a fine framer locally who I trust with all of my frames for the gallery so we had a long conversation on what would be appropriate and I came across another Turner that was for sale in London, it was another small watercolour but this time of a finch. It was presented in a modern profile but still guilted in gold so it had a element of tradition about it. It also has a small trim of gold within the mount itself which tied the two together.So we set about that, that should be the one!


Now, most of the pictures we were pulling together are very modern, very very modern, with the likes of Tracey Emin RA, BANKSY, Jeff Koons, Halima Cassell MBE and the Doodle Boy. So I knew the Turner would either stand out or could look a little misplaced in this eclectic mix of artist.

I lost sleep over this! Putting your name to something as high profile as a museum, which I have never done before, I wanted it to be good!

I referenced the Turner retrospective at the Tate and saw the colour of the walls and also the theatre that was created around the Sun pendant being in a dark space which was displaying something quite small but made it very impressive. I came up with the idea of a ‘Turner Pod’ a walled unit which had three walls and a roof with nothing  more inside it, than the Turner. Painted in the same Blue as the Turner show in London, I knew the gold frame would really ‘POP’ on that colour and a single light just lighting up the painting would make the viewing experience focussed and dramatic. It would also separate it from the rest of the collection, it would fight, it would stand alone as the main piece.

I am pleased to say it worked! The Shrewsbury Arts Trail is pleased, the Museum is pleased and I am pleased.


It has been a privilege to curate the show and a bigger privilege to have been able to give something to the county so we can now have this wonderful little bit of Shropshire history on permanent display in our wonderful museum.

I can’t wait to see tea towels, postcards, mugs, poster and all merchandise in the museum shops with our now hopefully famous Turner.

For more information about the Shrewsbury Arts Trail and Shrewsbury Museum head over to their websites here:

Special thanks to Ross & Amy at Callaghan Framing for doing such a great job on the conservation of the Turner.

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