Joseph Mallord William Turner

Arundel Castle on the River Arun, with a Rainbow

c.1824–5

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 161 x 230 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D18139
Turner Bequest CCVIII F

Catalogue entry

The hereditary seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, the imposing and stolid stone form of Arundel Castle occupies the central register of Turner’s drawing. The fortification, built atop a motte, was situated at the mouth of the River Arun for defensive purposes during the reign of William the Conqueror.1 Turner seems to have depicted the south bailey of the Castle which gives onto the Arun valley. This part of the castle had been renovated at around the turn of the nineteenth century and featured ‘a magnificent baronial hall’ and music gallery ‘built in the best Gothic style, and enriched with all its choicest decorations’; the ‘most splendid ornament’ the twenty-foot high ‘painted window’ by Francis Eginton.2 The window can just about be made out on the left of the two towers in the drawing.
The grandeur of the building is emphasised by the arc of a rainbow, rendered with stippling to evoke a diffuse and hazy spectrum. Curator James Hamilton writes that during the 1820s ‘the refraction of light and the nature of rainbows was being extensively studied’ principally by the physicist David Brewster (1781–1868). Turner’s Victorian biographer Walter Thornbury writes of the debates the artist had with friends on the subject of light and the science behind the spectrum.3 These were friends from an Edinburgh social circle which Turner entered in 1818, according to Hamilton.4 The Revd James Skene, author of the article on ‘Painting’ in Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopaedia (1808–30), includes observations which seem to give direct evidence of Turner’s knowledge of contemporary research into this field. Skene writes: ‘aided by the discoveries daily making in the mysteries of light, [Turner’s] scrutinising genius seems to tremble on the verge of some new discovery in colour, which may prove of the first importance of art’.5 On an aesthetic level, the rainbow, Eric Shanes writes, is a reminder that ‘Turner’s imagination was never constrained by the parameters of the “everyday” world’.6
In stark contrast to the aristocratic command of Arundel Castle, Turner depicts scenes of homespun daily activity around the Arun in the foreground. The river, curator Ian Warrell writes, was ‘connected by means of a series of canals with the Thames providing a shorter alternative route to London from the South Coast’, and therefore was an important communication link for trade.7 Labourers are depicted around a Post mill with a roundhouse base, probably used for storing the milled grain being loaded onto a boat at the river’s edge. Luminescent, the mill is rendered in brilliant ivory pigment and heightened with warm ochre and brown tones. Two women can be seen fishing in the immediate foreground on the left, surrounded by a net a bright red buoy. On the right a man steers a barge laden with cargo (probably grain from the Post mill). The ‘A’ carved or painted onto the stern most probably denotes ‘Arundel’. Turner employed other such correspondences between barge names and the places in which they were located in his Kirkstall Lock, on the River Aire (Tate D18145; Turner Bequest CCVIII L), Lancaster, from the Aqueduct Bridge and Dudley, Worcester (both Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, UK) from his England and Wales series.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

1
‘The Castle’, Arundel Castle, http://www.arundelcastle.org/_pages/01_castle.htm, accessed 12 March 2013.
2
Hofland 1827, pp.20–1.
3
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians, 2nd edition, London 1877, pp.138–9.
4
Hamilton 1998, p.65.
5
Skene in David Brewster, Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, Edinburgh 1830, vol.16, pp.263. Quoted in James Hamilton, Turner: A Life, London 1997, p.216.
6
Shanes 1990, p.117, no.92 (colour).
7
Ian Warrell, Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, p.33, no.14.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like