Joseph Mallord William Turner

Launceston from the North-West


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 179 x 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXIV 72

Catalogue entry

Built on a large natural mound high on a hill, Launceston Castle dominates the town of the same name just inside Cornwall, west of the county border along the River Tamar. Now in the care of English Heritage, it dates from soon after the Norman Conquest and its thirteenth-century keep comprises a round tower inside an earlier circular shell.1 Here, the viewpoint is along St Stephen’s Hill, with the castle and St Mary Magdalene’s Church seen to the south-east across the valley of the River Kensey. Later buildings and trees now obscure the approach in places, but south of the junction with St Cuthbert Close, Turner’s prospect can be readily recognised.
John Ruskin recognises this sketch as relating to the watercolour Launceston, Cornwall of about 1826 (private collection),2 engraved in 1827 for the series Picturesque Views in England and Wales.3 In it, Turner introduced a lone horse and rider in the foreground, aligned with the castle and seen from the back as they approach the town. Martha Mel Edmunds has interpreted this as a depiction of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who was effectively persecuted on religious grounds and imprisoned in the castle for nine months in 1656.4 In a view from this direction in the contemporary Devon Rivers, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D09600; Turner Bequest CXXXII 110), a small silhouetted form may indicate a man on a horse or donkey; perhaps this observation at the scene sowed the idea of the motif in Turner’s mind.
There are other views of the castle and town on folios 69 recto, 71 recto, 72 recto, 73 recto, 74 recto, 75 recto and 76 recto (D09817, D09813, D09818–D09820, D09823, D09824; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 25, 21, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32). For nearby Polson Bridge, see under folio 77 recto (D09825; Turner Bequest CXXXIV 33), and for more Launceston sketches in the Devon Rivers, No.1 book , see under Tate D09596 (Turner Bequest CXXXII 106).
See ‘Launceston Castle’, English Heritage, accessed 28 April 2014,
Wilton 1979, p.392 no.792, reproduced; unspecified drawings ‘made at Launceston’ in this sketchbook and elsewhere are mentioned.
Cook and Wedderburn XIII 1904, p.563; see also Shanes 1979, p.156, and Piggott 1999, p.4.
See Martha Lane Edmunds, ‘Picture Notes: Launceston, Cornwall’, Turner Studies, vol.4, no.2, Winter 1984, pp.59–60; see also Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, pp.170–1 under no.141, and Piggott 1999, p.4.
Technical notes:
The page is slightly darkened overall from prolonged display; there is an unaffected strip along the top edge which was protected by the mount. There is a brown stain around an old repair to a tear in the surface towards the bottom left.

Matthew Imms
July 2014

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