New Turner £20 previewed at Turner’s House

  • 12 Feb 2020
  • Article

New Turner £20 previewed at Turner’s House before general release on 20 February

Hot off the Bank of England’s presses, two brand new £20 notes featuring J.M.W. Turner arrived at Turner’s House in Twickenham on February 4th ahead of their national release on February 20th

Chief Cashier, Sarah John, and bank note designer, Debbie Marriott, showcased the polymer note’s innovative design, new security features and production process in the house which Turner designed for himself.

The new note is ground-breaking in many ways including being the first to feature a character chosen in consultation with the public, who recognised J.M.W Turner’s contribution to the visual arts and enduring influence.

The design features:

  • J.M.W. Turner’s self-portrait, painted c. 1799 and currently on display in Tate Britain.
  • Turner’s painting The Fighting Temeraire; voted Britain’s greatest painting in a BBC poll.
  • Turner’s signature from his Will, the document with which he bequeathed many of his paintings to the nation.
  • The quote “Light is therefore colour”   from an 1818 lecture by Turner referring to his innovative use of light, shade, colour and tone in his pictures.
JMW Turner on £20 note


Sarah John, who is responsible circulation and security, explained that the new polymer £20 is the most secure Bank of England banknote yet. Two windows and a two-colour foil have been incorporated by cutting edge technology, making it difficult to counterfeit. Sarah joked, that for her mum, the most exciting new feature is her daughter’s signature on it in her role as Chief Cashier for the Bank of England.

“The £20 may be our third polymer banknote, but in some ways, it’s the biggest change to date, as the £20 note accounts for 50% of notes in circulation – that’s £40 billion worth!” said Sarah, “It has been a huge printing job, with printing presses running for 14 months to ensure that we had adequate launch stocks.”

That’s enough notes to circle the world seven times!

Designer, Debbie Marriott, overlooked by a portrait of J.M.W Turner in his sitting room, explained the complex four year design process. Once challenge was “copying the work of one of history’s greatest artists” and converting an oil work to something suitable for a banknote press.

Banknote designs are created using a series of fine lines and specific colours similar to traditional engraving, which is very different to the subtle blending of colours used in oil work.

“We tried to capture the painterly effects of the oil paint using brush strokes especially in the hair, the jacket and scarf using a linear effect whilst focusing on the form, but there are some slight differences if you compare the banknote engraving to the oil painting. For example, we used a traditional banknote engraving approach for Turner’s face using smaller marks within the portrait design to produce a neater, tighter finish.”

“When you get your hands on the note, you will be able to see the contrast of these two finishes around his eye.”

They also had the challenge of capturing The Fighting Temeraire in a note which has historically been associated only with the colour purple.

“We needed to incorporate the purple which is synonymous with the £20 and we did this predominantly within the background image and portrayed the ship in light purple and blue hues to give a ghostly effect as in the painting. We used bright, vivid red, orange and yellows hues to depict the sun setting behind Turner’s shoulder to really bring the art to life.”

“All this had to be done on computer – taking Turner’s art into 21st century!”

The printing of the new £20 coincided with the introduction of new, advanced printing presses which allowed the bank to incorporate more colours, resulting in the most colourful note yet, fitting for a note which features the artist famous for his quote “Light is therefore colour”.

Turner’s House Trust have been working with the Bank of England to support the issue of the new note this year by organising a programme of events throughout 2020. These include their first  exhibition of Turner’s original work; a Turner Day on June 11th, featuring talks on his life and work, including the painting The Fighting Temeraire; family printmaking workshops creating personalised banknotes, and studying Turner’s self-portrait – the image that will appear on the £20 note. turnershouse.org/whats-on/.

New £20 at Turner's House Feb 2020


About Turner's House and the new notes

Turner’s House

Turner’s House was designed by the great landscape painter, JMW Turner as a rural retreat. It has won a string of awards since its restoration and opened to the public in the summer of 2017. It came first in The People’s Award and Highly Commended in the Historic Buildings category of last year’s The Civic Voice Design Awards. These awards followed other accolades awarded to Butler Hegarty, the house’s conservation architects, scooping two honours in last year’s prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects awards where the house was named the overall winner for London as well as receiving an award for South-West London. The house also won two Time Out Love London Awards for Favourite Cultural Spot and Favourite Landmark in Richmond and was commended in the recent Brick Awards. Its garden recently won Silver in Richmond in Bloom.

Bank of England Selection process

The new £20 marks the first time the Bank of England has used a more transparent character selection process in which members of the public could suggest a figure from the visual arts. The Bank received 29,701 nominations covering 590 eligible characters. The Banknote Advisory Committee, with input from public focus groups, then produced a shortlist which it discussed in detail with the Governor who made the final decision.

What were the criteria?

An unquestioned contribution to the visual arts; a wider contribution to British society; and an enduring influence.

The strength of the other four characters on the final shortlist – filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, painter William Hogarth, and designer Josiah Wedgwood – gives a sense of the exceptional pedigree of British visual arts – and contextualises Turner’s contribution.

The Banknote Advisory Committee were John Akomfrah, Sir David Cannadine, Andrew Graham-Dixon, Sandy Nairne, Alice Rawsthorn, Baroness Lola Young, and, from the Bank, Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent and Chief Cashier Victoria Cleland.

The public will begin to see the new £20 from 20 February as the notes leave cash centres around the country and enter general circulation. The public can continue to spend paper £20 notes as usual and these will be gradually withdrawn as they are banked by retailers and the public. Notice will be given six months ahead of legal tender status of the paper £20 being withdrawn. www.thenew20.co.uk.

Banner image: LtR Debbie Marriott BoE, Michael Deriaz, Vice Chair Turners House, Sarah John BoE pose with giant £20 ahead of launch on 20 February.

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