Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 583 × 729 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 381

Catalogue entry

As discussed in the Introduction, the present section initially comprised four identified ‘colour beginnings’ (Tate D25456, D25457, D25506, D36321; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 333, 334, 382, CCCLXV 30) for a large watercolour of Bamborough Castle exhibited at the Graphic Society, London, in 1837 (private collection).1
Upon further consideration, this work, described only as a ‘Sunset (?)’ by Finberg,2 is here tentatively identified as a fifth study. On a similar scale to the finished design (505 x 705 mm), what at first sight appear randomly applied and equally randomly worked washes seem to correspond to the general layout and effect, with a headland emerging out of the stormy gloom, topped by what seems to be the pale castle keep at the top centre, and even the hint of another tower further to the right, while the lightly worked areas below suggest the sea in the foreground at the left, a mass of surf at the centre, and the arc of the beach at the right, just as in the final composition.
The provisional nature of this sheet is shown by the presence of seemingly unrelated pencil marks in the middle of the bottom right quarter, which may represent sails or small buildings. Corresponding marks at the bottom left may indicate clouds. It seems likely that these had been made on a separate occasion while the paper was folded (see the technical notes below), and that Turner then used the whole sheet for an ad hoc ‘colour beginning’ in the process of working on Bamborough Castle. There are ruled pencil lines on all sides, possibly made as Turner worked to establish the proportions of the design.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.404 no.895 as ?c.1840; see ‘Bamborough Revisited’, Turner Society News, no.107, December 2007, p.1, reproduced in colour.
Finberg 1909, II, p.
Technical notes:
Paper conservator Peter Bower has proposed that this may be the ‘one sheet’ in the Turner Bequest showing evidence of Turner’s supposed habit of temporarily gluing paper round the edges to attach it to a wooden board in order to work on it vigorously with watercolours, as suggested by the ‘very torn and ragged edges’1 possibly caused by its subsequent removal. There are three large tears in the middle of the sheet, and one at the bottom centre along the line of the vertical crease made when the sheet was formerly folded into quarters, as well as water stains in the lower half.
Bower 1999, pp.12, 14 note 7.
Shanes 1997, p.31; see also p.100.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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