The Turner House has a rich history, the building which was devised by James Pyke Thompson has always been a centre for arts and culture in Penarth:
James Pyke Thompson (1846-1897) was born in Bridgewater and educated in Weston Super Mare, Brighton and Paris. When 18 years old he joined the family business, the flower millers, Spiller & Co. of Cardiff. James was a Director of the firm by 1881 and in charge from 1890 until he retired in 1892.
By 1881 James had become wealthy enough to build a large house in Penarth and create a varied collection of paintings, prints and fine china. A few years later he decided to build a small art gallery in the corner of his garden to exhibit a small part of this collection.
Pyke Thompson called it The Turner House.
The Turner House opened to the public on 27 June 1888. It was named after the English artist J.M.W. Turner, whom Pyke Thompson greatly admired. The architect was Edward Seward (1853-1924), who designed several major buildings in Cardiff – the Royal Infirmary, Old Library, and Coal Exchange. Originally the building had only an upstairs gallery with a custodian living below.
Pyke Thompson wanted to share his art collection as he believed that looking at art improved our wellbeing. He also felt that people should visit galleries and museums on Sundays at a time when only churches and chapels were open. So, Pyke Thompson deliberately arranged for the Turner House to open every Sunday.
Pyke Thompson hoped to give the gallery to Penarth after his death, but this plan failed and in 1899 his brothers established a trust for the building and its collection.
The Turner House trustees ran the gallery until 1921, when the age of its members and increasing costs of maintenance required a more permanent arrangement. So on 17 October 1921 the original trustees assigned the building and its collection to the National Museum of Wales, which has acted as trustee ever since.
The Turner House has always been a venue for art and culture, apart from ten years during and after the Second World War. In 1950 the National Museum re-modelled the building creating today’s ground-floor gallery and the balcony display area above.
For nearly 20 years the building was the home of Ffotogallery, the national development agency for photography in Wales. Today, Penarth Town Council manage the Turner House as an arts and creative hub for the communities of Penarth and beyond.
For more information on the Pyke Thompson collection visit the National Museum Website (Link: https://museum.wales/articles/2011-12-01/James-Pyke-Thompson-1846-1897/)