Joseph Mallord William Turner

Brightling Observatory


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 181 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXVII 36 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted and continued on folio 38 (D10255; Turner Bequest CXXXVII 37). The Observatory (now a private residence) is situated on the Brightling–Burwash road, within sight of Rosehill (now Brightling) Park, the estate of Turner’s patron John Fuller. It was designed for Fuller by Robert Smirke in 1810 and is usually said to have been completed in 1818. Splendidly positioned high above the eastern Weald with sweeping views west and south to the sea, it contained Fuller’s telescope and other equipment including a camera obscura. There is another view of it in the Hastings sketchbook watermarked 1815 (Tate D10394–D10395; Turner Bequest CXXXIX 34a–35), which served as the basis for the watercolour (currently untraced)1 engraved by William Bernard Cooke for Views in Sussex. The Observatory was probably far from being finished when Turner visited Rosehill in 1810. Although it appears here only in the far distance, it is sufficiently complete and accurate as to suggest that this drawing could be contemporary with the later one in the Hastings sketchbook. Ramsay Richard Reinagle’s letterpress to Cooke’s plate manages to finesse the building as ‘the most important point in the scene’ but in the later words of E.V. Lucas, ‘As a matter of fact, the observatory, being of no interest, is almost invisible’.2

David Blayney Brown
March 2011

Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.348 no.424.
E.V. Lucas, Highways and Byways in Sussex, London 1912, pp.380–1.

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