Joseph Mallord William Turner

Brightling Observatory


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 129 x 205 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXIX 34 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted and continued on folio 35 (D10395) this is Turner’s most detailed drawing of the Observatory, built by Robert Smirke for John Fuller. It served for the watercolour The Observatory at Rosehill Park, the Seat of John Fuller, Esq. made for Fuller about 1816 (currently untraced)1 and engraved by William Bernard Cooke in 1819 for Views in Sussex. Notable in this drawing is the portly man standing on the right near the path to the Observatory, wearing the clothes of a yeoman farmer. Hamilton suggests he might be Fuller, waiting to meet the artist who one imagines has walked over via the Avenue from Rosehill Park. Alternatively he could be the occupant of the nearby house, probably what is now Mill House Farm.
Situated high above the eastern Weald on the Brightling-Burwash road, the Observatory contained Fuller’s telescope and camera obscura. More distant views of the building are in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook (Tate D10254–D10255; Turner Bequest CXXXVIII 36a–37). The Observatory has been variously dated between 1810 and 1822, with 1818 as the preferred year of its completion. However, Turner’s drawings suggest that the exterior at least was finished several years earlier.
Ramsay Richard Reinagle’s letterpress to the plate in Views in Sussex commented, ‘Mr. Turner feels every subject as he ought, and therefore gives a charm when he exercises his pencil, be his subject what it may’.

There is a drawing of Rosehill on the recto and folio 33 verso (D10393–D10392).

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

Wilton 1979, p.348 no.424.

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