Joseph Mallord William Turner

Buildings beyond Water, Possibly the Custom House, London, or St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 344 x 485 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 57

Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has suggested that this loose colour study, of the type relatable to various designs for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales, might show the long, level façade of the Custom House on the Thames below London Bridge,1 or the spire of St Mary Redcliffe Church above Bristol’s harbour.2
Two other colour studies apparently show the Custom House (Tate D25222, D25294; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 100, 172). The first of these, with similar pale blue and yellow colouring, shows the south front of the building in relation to what may be slight indications of the Monument and St Magnus the Martyr’s Church to its left. The slender triangular spire indicated in the present work could be a schematic rendering of the complex stepped profile of the tower and spire of St Magnus; for more on the Custom House, see the entries for both the colour studies mentioned above.
Shanes’s Bristol suggestion is complicated by the medieval spire of St Mary Redcliffe (since restored to its full height) having been in a truncated state when Turner knew it, and being represented as such in the few drawings he made of it in the 1790s: the watercolour South Porch of St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol of about 1791–2 (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery);3 a study of the tower and spire in the South Wales sketchbook (D00661; Finberg number: XXVI 99); and a distant view in the Swans sketchbook with a shipyard and boats in the foreground (Tate D01702, D01703; Turner Bequest XLII 27–28). Again, however, the spire might be a rapid, schematic representation.
In view of the uncertainty of the subject matter (assuming a specific place was even intended), a broad range of about 1825 to 1838, the effective span of Turner’s work on the England and Wales project, has been applied here. 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.26, 95, 99, 104.
Ibid., pp.95, 104.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.301 no.16, reproduced.
Blank (laid down and not examined).

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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