As Finberg and Dearden have noted, this colour study is based on a watercolour and pencil view on a similar scale in the Isle of Wight sketchbook of 1795 (Tate D00432; Turner Bequest XXIV 25). The present work is less detailed, concentrating on and intensifying the contrast between the shadowy foreground and the sunlit castle and hilltop, seen to the north-west in evening light.
There are other views of Carisbrooke in the Isle of Wight sketchbook (Tate D00431, D00433, D00452; Turner Bequest XXIV 24, 25a, 44), a separate view of about 1796 (Tate D00881; Turner Bequest XXXIII J) and studies from the 1820s (Tate D20212–D20214, D20316; Turner Bequest CCXX F, G, H; CCXXIV 26) preceding the finished watercolour of about 1828 (Carisbrooke Castle Museum),1 engraved for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.
Of the sheets known to have originated in the Studies for Liber sketchbook, this is the only one worked in full colour, as opposed to the characteristic ‘sepia’ brown of the Liber Studiorum compositions otherwise removed from it. There is no watercolour evident on the stub remaining in the book (see technical notes below), whereas the washes at the left of this truncated sheet reach right to the edge, suggesting that they were applied at least in part after this leaf was torn from the book.
In the absence of specific evidence, the span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication and hence Turner’s likely use of the Studies for Liber sketchbook, 1807–19, is suggested here as a range for the present work (as it is for various unpublished Liber designs), whether or not there is a Liber connection. It may be that there is none, and Turner just needed a sheet of this size for another purpose, in which case its function may be as a ‘colour beginning’ of the type common between the 1810s and the 1830s in relation to projects such as England and Wales (of which there are many examples at Tate; see particularly Turner Bequest grouping CCLXIII).
If the watercolour was begun as a potential Liber subject it was clearly rejected, but it might be suggested that there are aspects of the composition fortuitously or deliberately comparable and contrastable with those of Dunstanborough Castle, engraved in 1808 (for the watercolour design, see Tate D08118; Turner Bequest CXVI Q): sunlit castles on skylines with foregrounds deep in shade; Dunstanburgh – a ruin – at dawn on the coast, massed towards the left; Carisbrooke – relatively intact but still picturesque – towards sunset inland, massed towards the right.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.395 no.815, reproduced.