Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Caernarfon Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 345 × 483 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 9

Display caption

The indistinctness of the building depicted renders its identification difficult, but it could be Caernarvon Castle as seen in evening light. Turner certainly represented that building in similar light conditions and colours around 1833 for the 'England and Wales' series of engravings, albeit from a nearer viewpoint. The size of the present design is that of an 'England and Wales' series drawing before trimming, which suggests that it was linked to that scheme, as a preparatory work at least. Turner's use of the large-scale diffusion of watercolour is particularly well represented in this work.

Gallery label, September 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Andrew Wilton suggested this as possibly a view of Caernarfon Castle from the south-east, at the junction of the Menai Straits with the River Seiont, comparable in its ‘pale purple, blue and yellow’ colouring with the finished watercolour Caernarvon Castle of about 1832–3 (British Museum, London),1 engraved in 1835 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04603, T06112). At the same time he compared the composition with that of Tate D25156 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 34), possibly a view of Windsor.2
Eric Shanes has agreed that Wilton’s identification is likely in terms of the colouring and composition; although David Hill has noted the ‘tentative’ status of the identification,3 Kim Sloan has accepted it in relation to the British Museum watercolour.4 The composition is comparable to the watercolour of the castle exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799 (private collection)5 and, among other sketches, a watercolour study of about that date (Tate D01901; Turner Bequest XLIV Y) and colour sketches in the 1798 Academical sketchbook, particularly Tate D01860 and D01864 (Turner Bequest XLIII 41a, 43a).
Tate D25484 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 361) has been very tentatively proposed as a Caernarfon study. Shanes also suggested Lake and Mountains (Tate D36299; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 9) as another.6 It includes castle-like pencil outlines, but appears rather later in style and the mountains seem too high to form a variant backdrop to Carenarvon; it has been associated elsewhere with mid-1840s Alpine subjects7 and has not been included in the present England and Wales-related section of this catalogue. 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.857, pl.196.
Wilton 1975, p.123.
Hill 1997, p.7.
Sloan 1998, p.104 under no.33 and note 1.
Wilton 1979, p.328 no.254, pl.47 (colour).
Shanes 1997, pp.94, 97, 107.
See Robert Upstone, Turner: The Final Years: Watercolours 1840–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, p.64 no.64, reproduced, as ‘Lake and Mountains’, c.1841–5.
Technical notes:
Eric Shanes has described ‘successive diffusions of colour to successive brushed wettings of the paper’, creating both ‘extreme tonal delicacy and special solidity’.1
The sheet is laid down on another of white laid paper, trimmed to exactly the same (slightly irregular) size. This appears to have been done to reinforce a tear running diagonally across the top corner, from the top edge about 125 mm in from the right-hand edge down towards the centre of the latter.
Shanes 1997, p.25; see also p.41.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like