Joseph Mallord William Turner

A River, Perhaps with a Castle Above, Possibly Cilgerran or Norham


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 300 × 457 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 148

Catalogue entry

This loose colour study, which Finberg called ‘River, with high banks’, has been linked by Eric Shanes to two scenes of castles above rivers:1 the watercolour Kilgarren Castle, Pembroke of about 1829 (private collection),2 engraved in 1829 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04540); and the watercolour Norham Castle of about 1822 (private collection).3 Turner may intend a building on the summit of the rosy central hill here, and there is a general correlation with the composition of the Kilgarren (or Cilgerran) design, although there the central hill and castle are silhouetted against the low sun. The particular view of Norham Castle above the Tweed which Shanes mentions is a small, upright composition, focusing on the castle glowing warmly in late afternoon sun among blue shadows, but any slight similarities of form and colour appear likely to be fortuitous. The two potential subjects are discussed in more detail in the entries for more firmly identified colour studies: Tate D25141 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 19) for Cilgerran and Tate D40191 (the verso of Turner Bequest CCLXIII 22) for Norham.
Gerald Wilkinson has observed: ‘Finberg’s titles are very misleading, though one can see his difficulties. The drawing ... is remarkably similar to a late watercolour of Lake Lucerne with a steamboat. The faint pencil outlines on the skyline do perhaps indicate a smaller scale than Switzerland’s, but the colouring is of the 1830s.’4 Wilkinson appears to refer to Lake Lucerne from Fluelen (‘The First Steamer on Lake Lucerne’) perhaps of 1841 (University College London),5 though there is little to connect it with the present work beyond the broad theme of water with rugged slope beyond.
Given the possibility that this sheet is an England and Wales-type study of an unconfirmed subject, a broad date of 1825–38 is suggested here, reflecting the parameters of Turner’s involvement with the project. See also the Introductions to the present subsection of tentatively identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Shanes 1997, pp.96, 100, 105; for the ‘Kilgarren’ identification, see also Shanes 1979, p.156.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.394 no.806, reproduced.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.424 no.1052.
Wilkinson 1975, p.105.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.478 no.1482, pl.247.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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