Joseph Mallord William Turner

Caernarvon Castle: The Walls from the West


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 229 x 332 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XXXVIII 93

Catalogue entry

This is one of two views of Caernarvon Castle in this book; the other is folio 68 recto (D01348; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 94). The castle, which stands on the north shore of the River Seiont, in the extreme north-west corner of North Wales, is one of the great chain of castles including Pembroke and Harlech, on folios 58–62 (D01292–D01295, D01329; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 40, 41, 42, 42a, 75), and Conwy, on folios 80–86 (D01303–D01306, D01336, D01307, D01308; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 50, 50a, 51, 52, 82, 53, 54), that Edward I erected to subdue the Welsh.
Caernarvon was renowned both for its exceptionally sophisticated architecture, recalling the Crusader castles of the eastern Mediterranean, and as the birthplace of the first Prince of Wales, who was by tradition born in the Eagle Tower, visible at the extreme left of this sheet, and seen more clearly from an easterly viewpoint in D01348.
The castle had been painted by Richard Wilson (1713–1782) in the 1740s and again in the 1760s,1 and was a popular subject among the eighteenth-century topographical watercolourists from Paul Sandby (c.1730–1809) onwards. It was to supply Turner with an important watercolour subject for the 1799 Royal Academy exhibition,2 and provided the background for a grand statement on Welsh civilisation shown there in 1800 (Tate D04164; Turner Bequest LXX M).3
See W.G. Constable, Richard Wilson, London 1953, p.173; and W.G. Constable, ‘Some Pentimenti’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.96, May 1954, p.144.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.328 no.254, pl.47 (colour).
Ibid., p.329 no.263, pl.52.
Inscribed in pencil (not by Turner) ‘165’ and ‘no 2’; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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