View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
The view is south-west from the east side of Tintagel Haven, showing two ranges of ruins on the skyline, with the thirteenth-century Cornish castle on the mainland to the top left and remains of what has variously thought to have been originally a Celtic monastery or a Dark Ages settlement1 on the ‘Island’ (actually a peninsula) towards the right. Tintagel is traditionally the place of conception and birthplace of the legendary King Arthur, as Turner could have read in Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, in the comprehensive 1795 Anderson edition of British Poets, which he may have owned as early as 1798.2 In the ‘Illustrations’ (footnotes) to Drayton’s brief references in the ‘First Song’ (first published in 1612), Arthur is noted as having been ‘born in Tintagel castle’.3 In the contemporary Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08595; Turner Bequest CXXIII 119a), Turner labels Glastonbury, where Arthur’s grave was supposedly found in the medieval period, as ‘Avalon’, its Arthurian place name, so he was aware of the story’s regional connections.
In the foreground are a capstan and winch, used to lower slate from nearby quarries to the beach. Rocky, terraced platforms remain visible at this point today. James Hamilton has compared the drawing with an 1870s photograph from a similar viewpoint,4 noting both Turner’s accuracy in recording the machinery and his instinctive exaggeration of the scale and height of the surrounding landscape, ‘while telling the absolute truth about it.’5
Eric Shanes has noted, as did C.F. Bell (see below), that this sketch and those on folios 33 recto and 34 recto (D41309, D41310) are sources for the watercolours Tintagel Castle, Cornwall of about 1815 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),6 engraved in 1818 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England7 (see the concordance of the series in the 1811 tour introduction), and another of the same subject made in about 1825 (private collection).8 The later watercolour, perhaps ‘an idea for the “Ports [of England]” series,’9 shows a different aspect, without the winching gear in the sketches. The present drawing is closest to the Southern Coast design; D41309 shows a variation, while D41310 shows the winch from the opposite direction. For other views of Tintagel, see under folio 9 recto (D41284).
See Andrew Saunders, Devon and Cornwall, Exploring England’s Heritage, London, 1991, p.23.
Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.113.
Robert Anderson (ed.), The Works of the British Poets, London 1795, vol.III, p.249.
Hamilton 1998, fig.54.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.352–3 no.463, reproduced.
Shanes 1981, p.152.
Not in Wilton 1979.
Shanes 1981, pp.39–40, 152.
A.J. Finberg, MS addenda, [circa 1928–39], tipped into a copy of his A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.I, opposite p.356, as CXXV(a) 58.
C.F. Bell, MS addenda, [after 1928], tipped into a copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.I, p.356B, as CXXVa 32.