Turner had first sketched Northampton’s All Saints Church in 1794, recording its partially obscured west front looking along Gold Street in the Matlock sketchbook (Tate D00218; Turner Bequest XIX 12); an engraving from an untraced watercolour1 of the view was published in 1796 (Tate impression: T05917). In the present drawing, inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation and continued a little on folio 18 recto opposite (D22353), Turner included more of the west front, from a closer viewpoint. The subject was identified, possibly in a different hand, among undated manuscript notes by the watercolour and Turner scholar C.F. Bell (died 1966) in a copy of Finberg’s 1909 Inventory.2 In this instance Turner was able to adapt his rapid sketch as the backdrop to a subsequent event. Eric Shanes confirmed the subject3 in relation to The Northampton Election, 6 December 1830 of about 1830–1 (Tate T12321),4 not engraved but apparently intended, like many of the Midlands watercolours resulting from the 1830 tour, for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.
Although Turner indicates the south side of the tower at a narrow angle and the central statue of Charles II above the portico shown left of the clock, implying a viewpoint just south-west of the church at the end of Gold Street, he must have moved opposite Mercer’s Row on the north side of the church to include the elaborate dome and cupola over the nave, directly behind the tower when the west front is viewed head on, but shown here significantly to its left. To the right of the tower is an extension of its own cupola, as Turner ran out of space at the top of the page. In the watercolour the prominent but much simplified dome is shown far to the right of the tower. The latter is a modified survival from the medieval church destroyed by fire in 1675; the rest of the church was rebuilt in classical style between 1676 and 1680, with the Ionic portico added in 1701, echoing Inigo Jones’s lost portico at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.5
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.312 no.118.
C.F. Bell, undated MS notes in a copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.II, p.738.
See Shanes 1979, pp.38, 156; Shanes 1990, p.223; and Shanes 2004, p.142.
Wilton 1979, p.403 no.881, reproduced.
See Nikolaus Pevsner, Northamptonshire, The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1961, pp.308–9.