Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Industrial Town at Sunset, Probably Birmingham or Dudley


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 348 x 482 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 128

Display caption

The precise subject of this watercolour has not been established, although the smoking tower to the left makes it clear that it shows an industrial landscape. It is one of a number of almost abstract studies created in connection with a series of prints after Turner’s work published as Picturesque Views in England and Wales. The scenery shown here can be connected with that shown in the view of Dudley from that series, displayed to the right.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Andrew Wilton has compared the subject and atmosphere of this colour study with the finished watercolour Dudley, Worcestershire of about 1832 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight),1 engraved in 1835 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05097, T06113, T06114), both having ‘obscurity and smoke hazily illuminated by the fires of industry’, with natural ‘light diffused through an artificial fog of haze and smoke’.2 Anne Lyles has called the present work ‘a remarkably radiant image’, projecting ‘an optimistic view of industrial activity’,3 following Wilton’s description of it as ‘a poem of almost lyrical enchantment with the new conditions in which the world assumed such grand forms’, contradicting John Ruskin’s reading of Turner’s works as evidence of (as Wilton puts it) ‘the tragedy of the industrial revolution’.4
The silhouetted buildings on the left are comparable with those on the left of Dudley, Worcestershire, but the overall landscape has a feeling of greater space and distance. In his survey linking Turner’s ‘colour beginnings’ to finished watercolours, Eric Shanes has suggested Birmingham as the subject.5 Comparable pencil sketches made in the Kenilworth sketchbook on Turner’s 1830 tour of the Midlands include Tate D21999, D22003 and D22023 (Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 14a, 16a, 26a).6 A colour study linked by Shanes to Dudley, Worcestershire is Tate D25350 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 228).
See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.400 no.858, pl.195.
Wilton 1980, p.168.
Lyles 1992, p.54.
Wilton 1980, p.168.
Shanes 1997, pp.96, 98, 105.
See Warrell 2007, p.80.
Technical notes:
There is a fold down the centre of the sheet, which is more evident from the verso. The upper edge shows evidence of folding and freehand tearing, the sheet probably having originally formed half of a larger one. The watercolour ends at the fold, presumably indicating that Turner worked with the other half tucked away.
Blank, save for inscriptions at the bottom left: in pencil ‘AB 93 P’; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCLXIII – 128’; and in pencil ‘CCLXIII 128’.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

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