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: 459 × 769 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXV 30

Display caption

Turner made three pencil sketches of Bamborough Castle in 1797, attracted particularly by the dramatic impact its outline makes on the horizon. He was alert to the dangers of this part of the Northumberland coast and noted the hull of a wrecked vessel below the castle in his sketch from the north. It was that sketch he chose to develop forty years later for one of his most ambitious late watercolours. First shown at the Graphic Society in 1837, the scene of wreckers at work below the castle was the last watercolour Turner submitted to a public exhibition (it is now in a private collection in America). This study is one of four in which he set out the composition of the finished work.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

As discussed in the introduction to the present section, this is one of four identified ‘colour beginnings’ for a large watercolour of Bamborough Castle (private collection)1 exhibited at the Graphic Society, London, in 1837; the others are Tate D25456, D25457 and D25506 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 333, 334, 382).2
This study is the closest to the finished design, with the elements more tightly focused than in the other studies. The bare area below the centre may correspond to the boat struggling in the waves in the exhibited watercolour, and the dark strokes towards the bottom right are presumably ideas for the figures observing from the beach.
Eric Shanes has suggested that Tate D25170 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 48) may be a fifth Bamburgh study, although he also gives Criccieth Castle and Dunwich as possible subjects.3 With dark masses above the horizon on the left and what may be figures loosely indicated in the foreground, it has some points in common with the present work; however, there seems to be no indication of the castle, and the general similarities may be fortuitous.
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.
See Hill 1996, pp.78, 188, 191, Shanes 1997, p.93, and Piggott 2008, p.17.
Shanes 1997, pp.93, 104.
Technical notes:
The paper bears the same watermarked initials and year (1827) as the sheets laminated to form the exhibited work. ‘B, E, & S’ indicates Bally, Ellen and Steart, of the De Montalt Mill, Combe Down, Bath, a favourite maker of Turner’s.1
There is slight pencil work on the castle, otherwise left as bare paper, and loose stokes here and there in bottom right quadrant. Zigzag highlights have been lifted from the dark washes among the clouds. There are dark blue colour trials at the bottom left.
See Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.89–97 and subsequent catalogue entries.

Matthew Imms
November 2012

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