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Although Turner travelled to Scotland in 1818 specifically to make sketches for Scott’s Provincial Antiquities, and there is generally in the three sketchbooks he took with him a tight focus on that commission, he did take the opportunity when passing through Newcastle to make this view of the city; it is the first recorded sketch that he made on this trip. ‘Newcastle’ is among the places on Turner’s route north listed at the back of the Edinburgh, 1818 sketchbook (Tate D13586; Turner Bequest CLXVI 70a).
While Turner made dozens of sketches for each of his ten Provincial Antiquities subjects, this single view was enough to form the basis of his watercolour Newcastle-on-Tyne, circa 1823 (Tate D18144; Turner Bequest CCVIII K),1 engraved by Thomas Lupton for the first part of the Rivers of England series in 1823 (Tate T04791).2 No plans for the Rivers series are mentioned by Turner or the publisher W.B. Cooke until the 1820s, so it seems likely that this sketch was made speculatively. Although he had no commission to make a picture of Newcastle, Turner probably felt that a good composition could be utilised at some point in the future for one of the topographical series with which he was increasingly involved.
The final watercolour is remarkably close to this on-the-spot sketch, following the original’s dimensions, composition, details and incident. All of the main topographical features are present. Looking west with Gateshead on the left and Newcastle on the right, we look towards the eighteenth-century bridge, since demolished, in the centre of the picture, with the Elswick shot-tower behind it. To the left is the tower of St Mary’s Church (destroyed by fire in 1997), and on the right are the Norman castle, the sharp spire of All Saint’s Church and the steeple of the Church of St Nicholas.3 Even the flag-pole is present is this sketch, although in the watercolour it is brought slightly lower in the composition and is proudly flying the Union Jack. The two boats in the sketch, in the centre and bottom left, are also preserved in the final composition, although the one in the centre has lost its mast, and more vessels have been added. The foreground detail in the watercolour is, however, as Andrew Wilton has pointed out, omitted in the pencil study.4 These details of workmen hauling timber up the bank from a boat may instead derive from a sketch in the Durham, Northshore sketchbook, 1817 (Tate D12324; Turner Bequest CLVII 5). Other details of soldiers relaxing on the bank and women waving to the keelmen are either remembered or imagined.
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After Joseph Mallord William Turner Newcastle-on-Tyne, from ‘The Rivers of England’
After Joseph Mallord William Turner Newcastle-on-Tyne, engraved by Thomas Lupton