J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Llandaff: The West Front of the Cathedral 1795-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Llandaff: The West Front of the Cathedral 1795–6
Turner Bequest XXVIII A
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 356 x 255 mm
Stamped in black ‘XXVIII – A’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This watercolour is based on a pencil drawing in the South Wales sketchbook (Tate D00556; Turner Bequest XXVI 4). Commissioned by Dr Matthews (see the list of ‘Order’d Drawings’ near the front of the South Wales book, Tate D40557), it was probably the work shown at the Royal Academy in 1796 (701). For a possible source for the dancing figures in the foreground see the South Wales view of the gateway of the Bishop’s Palace at St David’s (Tate D00593; Turner Bequest XXVI 39).
Finberg dismisses this watercolour as ‘merely the work of a clever and skilful topographical draughtsman ... When the artist has told us as clearly and precisely as possible the exact shape of every object from his chosen point of view, we feel that he has done all that he set out to do, and all that we can reasonably demand of him. Then these objects are left standing side by side in relative independence of each other and of us; they have no necessary connection one with the other ... Their only bond of union is the abstract one of space. The whole effect is of something severed from direct experience; the objects have an unreal air of permanence and immutability, with something of the intellectual coldness and aloofness of a diagram or mathematical symbol.’1
These strictures are prompted by a comparison with the watercolour of the Interior of Ewenny Priory that Turner exhibited in 1797 (National Museum Wales, Cardiff);2 and see the Smaller South Wales sketchbook, Tate D00472; Turner Bequest XXV 11), which is a technically more sophisticated work But they do less than justice to the expressive subtlety of Turner’s conception in the Llandaff. The figures of old men gossiping and young people dancing to a fiddle, though deliberately introduced on a small scale to emphasise the majestic proportions of the cathedral, are carefully devised to point up the themes of the subject: the passing of time, youth, age, and the contrast between antiquity and modernity, the spiritual and the mundane.
Finberg 1910, pp.29–30.
Wilton 1979, p.325 no.227, pl.28.
Blank; not stamped.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Llandaff: The West Front of the Cathedral 1795–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, April 2012, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-llandaff-the-west-front-of-the-cathedral-r1141182, accessed 25 May 2018.