Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rochester Castle from the River


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 215 x 270 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XV D

Technique and condition

Catalogue entry

This is an unfinished watercolour, apparently in a style consistent with other sheets in this group, which were perhaps envisaged as a series of finished views analogous to the ‘12 Views on the River Avon’; see Tate D00108, D00109, D00111 and D00114 (Turner Bequest VII A, B, D, G).
This drawing provides the best evidence for the existence of an early oil painting by Turner, ‘a view of Rochester Castle, with fishermen drawing their boats ashore in a gale of wind’. The work is not known, but Thornbury’s second-hand description of it (related by ‘one who has seen it’) is very detailed and specific:
it bears a strong resemblance to De Loutherbourg, and is well drawn; being carefully and thinly painted, with thin scumbles of semi-opaque colour used in so fluid a state as still to show where it had run down the picture from his brush. It reveals the experienced water-colour painter at first using a new and denser material timidly, and with a hesitating hand that was soon to grow more daring.1
The view, the atmospheric effect, and the foreground boats in this watercolour all suggest that a subject like the one Thornbury’s informant describes might have been developed from it. Compare the study of the Hot-Wells, Bristol (Tate D00389; Turner Bequest XXII O), from which Turner evolved a watercolour that he exhibited under the title The rising squall, Hot Wells, from St Vincent’s Rock, Bristol, in 1793, the year Thornbury gives for the execution of the Rochester oil.
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 2nd ed., London 1876, p. 45.
Blank; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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