Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Chichester Cathedral


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 305 × 488 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 82

Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has suggested that this colour study shows Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, and that it represents an undeveloped subject for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.1
The composition certainly represents a large church or cathedral with western towers and a central spire seen from the south, which correspond to those shown in Thomas Girtin’s (1775–1802) small watercolour of the cathedral of about 1797 (Tate D36633; Turner Bequest CCCLXXIX 7).
Turner’s foreground is ambiguous, with the fluid horizontal strokes below the roughly indicated trees at the left suggesting reflections, hence Finberg’s description of the view as ‘from the river’. The River Lavant does flow to the south of the cathedral, albeit in a shallow, narrow channel. There are no identified Turner sketches to correspond with the prospect, and drawings showing (or possibly showing) details of the cathedral are limited to the Studies near Brighton sketchbook of 1796 (Tate D00764, D00766–D00768, D00783; Turner Bequest XXX 32a, 33, 33a, 34, 48), and a pencil study of the spire above the roofs of East Street, made in about 1800 (British Museum, London). The cathedral appears in the distance in the two versions of Chichester Canal, oil paintings made in the late 1820s for the Earl of Egremont (Tate N00560; Tate T03885, displayed at Petworth House, West Sussex).2 This might account for Turner’s renewed interest in the building at that time, assuming it is the subject of the present composition.
The identification as Chichester remains speculative; its dating to around 1828–38 takes into account the sheet’s 1828 watermark and the termination of the England and Wales project some ten years later. It has been tentatively suggested that Tate D25227 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 105) might be another study for the subject. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Shanes 1997, pp.94, 96, 105.
Respectively Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.166 no.285, pl.287 (colour), p.168 no.290, pl.292 (colour).

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

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