Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Church Spire, Possibly at Petworth, Grantham or Newark


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 308 × 487 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 304

Technique and condition

This work by Turner is a watercolour on a medium weight, cream wove paper. Titled Newark Church, it is a loose and fairly un-detailed sketch. Though on the whole fairly fluid in construction, there are a number of quite dry, scratchy marks particularly in the foreground. As seen on the horizon and in parts of the sky just above, the artist also appears to have also applied the media with some kind of stipple tool or piece of fabric. It is likely that this work has previously been treated due to the pressed out fold lines and the reasonable contemporary inlay in which it sat. The inlay paper was adhered to the back mount board which meant not only that any movement was restricted but also that the verso of the work could never be viewed. This has now been replaced in order to facilitate this. Particularly noticeable on the verso or through transmitted light there are a number of small spots in the sky area that maybe oil based. Noticeable by the slight change in media application on the recto of these spots it appears that they may also have previously been retouched. Otherwise, this work is in a reasonable condition.

Jo Gracey
May 2001

Catalogue entry

This colour study of a slender spire against a wide blue sky is of the type Turner made in preparation for the watercolour compositions of his Picturesque Views in England and Wales. Cook and Wedderburn record John Ruskin’s MS note of 1880 concerning the identification of the view: ‘Grantham–nearly sure’1 – a reference to St Wulfram’ Church, Grantham, Lincolnshire, which Turner had drawn in 1797 in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00995; Turner Bequest XXXIV 84), and there is a watercolour of a different aspect, the North-East View of Grantham Church, Lincolnshire, of a little earlier (its engraving being dated 1 March 1797), based on a sketch by R.B. Schnebbelie (Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven).2 The profile of the tower and spire is comparable and Finberg tentatively offered the same identification.
Werner Hofmann’s suggestion that the present work relates to the watercolour Salisbury, from the South, c.1828 (Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),3 engraved in 1830 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impression: T04586),4 has been dismissed by Andrew Wilton as ‘the two buildings seem wholly different both in shape and proportion’.5 Wilton subsequently proposed ‘Grantham or Newark’ as possible subjects.6 St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Newark, Nottinghamshire, was the subject of a watercolour of about 1794 (private collection);7 there is also a 1794 pencil sketch showing the spire in the distance (Tate D00360; Tuner Bequest XXII G).
In relation to England and Wales compositions, Eric Shanes has given the Grantham church8 and Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex,9 as potential subjects. Chichester seems unlikely, as the section of the tower rising above the high roofline at its crossing forms a relatively shallow cube compared with the triple cube proportion of the tower in the present study. For a more likely Chichester ‘colour beginning’, see Tate D25204 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 82).
Ian Warrell makes a persuasive case for the spire being that of St Mary’s Church, Petworth, West Sussex, adjacent to Petworth House, the home of Turner’s patron Lord Egremont. he compares it with an 1827 pencil sketch, looking west from rolling countryside to the church, with its newly built steeple, beside the house on the horizon, in the Petworth sketchbook (Tate D22577; Turner Bequest CCXLIII 1), and a gouache on blue paper study of a similar view from the same year (Tate D22667; Turner Bequest CCXLIV 5), with ‘a cluster of peaks to the right resembling [Petworth House’s] chimneys’, possibly echoed in the strokes at the centre of the skyline of the present work10 (the spire has since been taken down).
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.624.
Wilton 1979, p.325 no.232.
Ibid., p.398 no.836, reproduced.
Hofmann 1976, p.140.
Wilton 1979, p.398.
Wilton 1987a, p.118; Newark alone is given as the subject in Wilton 2001, p.346, without further discussion.
Not in Wilton 1979.
Shanes 1997, pp.27, 94, 96, 106.
Ibid., pp.94, 106.
Warrell 1998, p.133.
Robinson 1989, p.48.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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