Joseph Mallord William TurnerThe Tower and Spire of St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London c.1808-11

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Artwork details

The Tower and Spire of St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London
From Windmill and Lock Sketchbook
Turner Bequest CXIV
Date c.1808-11
MediumGraphite on paper
Dimensionssupport: 115 x 87 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXIV 64
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 64 Recto:
The Tower and Spire of St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, London circa 1808–11
Turner Bequest CXIV 64
Pen and ink on white wove paper, 115 x 87 mm
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry)
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘64’ bottom left, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘CXIV – 64’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Inscribed below the sketch, and upside down in relation to it, are some rather unclear architectural notes in ink:
Tuscan 7 D[...] 
Doric  7    [?Bas] & C[...] 
2        [?9 90]  
Turner’s drawing is a summary outline of the upper part of the tower and spire of St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, which was consecrated in 1731 as the sixth and last of the dramatic London churches designed by the English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.1 A four-sided, pedimented aedicule with four columns on each face supports the shallow pedestal of a steep, tiered pyramid, with stone royal lions and unicorns at the lower corners, indicated here in outline; a statue of King George I in classical costume balances on a cylindrical Roman altar at the top.2
These elements, restored in recent years, are all visible from the street south of the church (Bloomsbury Way, formerly Hart Street) at a shallow enough angle to allow Turner to infer an elevation with the elements in approximately the correct proportion, as shown here and in more detail in the pencil study on folio 67 recto (D08047). Hawksmoor’s design was consciously reminiscent of the form of the lost Mausoleum of Mausolus at Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey),3 one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Turner himself makes this connection explicit in his notes and sketch of the Mausoleum on folio 10 recto (D07973), where he observes, whether in his own right or following an unidentified source, that it was ‘not very unlike Bloomsbury Ch[urch]’.
Maurice Davies relates this study and those on folios 67 recto and 76 verso (D08047, D08063) to Turner’s first perspective lecture, delivered at the Royal Academy in January 1811 (see the Introduction to the sketchbook); Turner discussed the statue on top of the steeple, and the effect of viewing it at an angle from the ground,4 in relation to two large watercolour diagrams. Diagram ‘6’ shows a scale elevation of the whole church (Tate D17115; Turner Bequest CXCV 144), although oddly the main body of the church appears to be largely invented, perhaps because of a lack of studies in this sketchbook or elsewhere, with its portico apparently based on the gateways in the screen of Carlton House, the subject of another lecture diagram (Tate D17119; Turner Bequest CXCV 148; see also folio 50 recto; D08024). By contrast, diagram ‘7’ (Tate D17116; Turner Bequest CXCV 145) shows a view up the tower from close to its foot, based on the drawing on folio 66 recto continued on folio 63 verso (D08046, D08042; not mentioned by Davies).
See St George’s Bloomsbury, accessed 3 October 2011,; and Kerry Downes, Colin Amery and Gavin Stamp, St George’s, Bloomsbury: A Hawksmoor Masterpiece Restored, London 2008.
See Colin Amery, ‘The Design’ in Downes, Amery and Stamp 2008, p.34.
See ibid., p.35.
See Davies 1992, pp.32, 106 note 9; and Davies 1994, p.290.
Technical notes:
The outer, shorter side of the leaf is irregular and appears to be the rough edge of the original unfolded sheet; thus the height of the page, as turned vertically, is 2 mm less than the sketchbook’s standard longer dimension of 117 mm; folios 20 (D07989, D07990) and 43 (D08015) are similar in this respect.

Matthew Imms
January 2012

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