Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Tower and Spire of St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, London


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 117 x 87 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXIV 66

Catalogue entry

Finberg did not recognise this view of St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, despite its being the source of one of Turner’s two large watercolour lecture diagrams of the building, as Diane Perkins correctly noted.1 For further details of the church see under folio 64 recto (D08043).
Maurice Davies does not mention the present drawing, although he relates elevations of the steeple and its statue of King George I on folios 64 recto, 67 recto and 76 verso (D08043, D08047, D08063) to Turner’s first perspective lecture, delivered at the Royal Academy in January 1811 (see the Introduction to the sketchbook), when Turner discussed the statue, and the effect of viewing it at an angle from the ground.2 Diagram ‘6’ shows a notionally accurate architectural elevation of the whole church (Tate D17115; Turner Bequest CXCV 144), partly based on the sketches listed above.
By contrast, diagram ‘7’ in the first lecture (Tate D17116; Turner Bequest CXCV 145), based on the present study, shows the tower in a pictorial composition, looking up its south face from beside the church’s portico (not shown in the sketch, although there would have been room to indicate it on the right). Turner’s intuitive on-the-spot registering of the steep viewing angle,3 with the vertical elements converging and the extreme relative angles of the horizontal features, was consciously toned down in the comparatively conventional lecture diagram, which gives the effect of seeing the tower from a greater distance,4 with the verticals (more or less) in parallel but with a somewhat inconsistent and destabilising hint of convergence,5 and the aedicule, steeple and statue at the top rather less truncated than in the present sketch.
There is a continuation of the lower part of the tower on folio 63 verso (D08042). Finberg noted that his ‘pp. 61–73’, i.e. folios 61 recto–73 verso (D08038–D08057), ‘were all loose and in different bundles. Their sequence is therefore conjectural’.6 Turner would have pushed the present page upwards to allow room for the continuation, indicating that the overall composition would originally have been bound as two successive rectos or versos.
See Perkins 1990, p.42.
See Davies 1992, pp.32, 106 note 9; and Davies 1994, p.290.
Compare modern photograph in Kerry Downes, Colin Amery and Gavin Stamp, St George’s, Bloomsbury: A Hawksmoor Masterpiece Restored, London 2008, p.47.
Compare modern photograph, ibid., back cover.
See Davies 1992, pp.73–4.
Finberg 1909, I, p.312.

Matthew Imms
January 2012

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