Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Conway Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 355 × 490 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 54

Catalogue entry

Finberg proposed that this colour study showed Criccieth Castle, for which see (with varying degrees of certainty) the ‘colour beginnings’ Tate D25161, D25174, D25293 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 39, 52, 171), but Eric Shanes has suggested that it shows Conway Castle, and that it is an undeveloped subject for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.1
The town and castle of Conway, or Conwy, lie on the estuary of the River Conwy near the coast of North Wales. Three modern bridges now cross the river immediately below the castle to the right (assuming the current identification is correct). Turner made several studies in his 1798 Hereford Court sketchbook; as Shanes notes,2 Tate D01305 and D1306 (Turner Bequest XXXVIII 51 52) may have informed the present work, as they did the works Turner produced soon after his visit, including watercolours in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles3 and the Whitworth Art Gallery,4 and an oil painting of about 1803 (private collection);5 most show the castle against dramatic clouds, enlivened by shafts of sunlight, effects also loosely indicated in the present work.
Harlech Castle has also been suggested as the subject in connection with Tate D35992 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 148), 6 a smaller, square-format sheet which may represent the same scene under different conditions, but there are ‘colour beginnings’ which appear to relate more closely to Harlech as depicted for England and Wales (Tate D25232, D25240, D25289; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 110, 118, 167).
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, 95, 104.
Ibid., pp.94, 95.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.329–30 no.270, reproduced.
Ibid., p.330 no.271, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.107–8 no.141, pl.146 (colour).
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.96; Shanes 1997, pp.94, 95 as possibly Conway by association with the present work.
Technical notes:
The composition is somewhat affected by staining a little way in from the right-hand and bottom edges. This has bled through from the verso, where it takes the form of the outline of a rectangle, 290 x 415 mm, set slightly askew, apparently of varnish or some other transparent medium offset from another sheet or the edges of a rectangular object, perhaps a frame or mount. Shanes has noted ‘spotting’ on this sheet which he describes in relation to other Turner colour studies as a likely ‘creative technique’ in the tradition of the ‘blot’ method employed by Alexander Cozens (1717–1786),1 although the effect here seems less deliberate and may be fortuitous, and possibly partly owing to the staining already described.
Shanes 1997, p.40; see also p.94.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

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