Joseph Mallord William Turner

Crichton Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 177 × 256 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXX 4

Catalogue entry

This watercolour was made in preparation for Turner’s Crichton Castle, circa 1818 (The Morgan Library and Museum, New York),1 which was engraved for Walter Scott’s Provincial Antiquities.2 The design was based on two sketches on a page of the Edinburgh sketchbook (1818) (Tate D13559; Turner Bequest CLXVI 56), and on a thumbnail composition study in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13722; Turner Bequest CLXVII 75), made during Turner’s tour of Scotland in October–November 1818. It seems likely that the finished watercolour, which was engraved for the second number of the Provincial Antiquities in August 1819, was finished shortly after Turner’s return from Scotland, 3 meaning that this study was completed around the end of 1818 or the very beginning of 1819. The composition is close to those sketches, except that Turner has made the hills appear higher to increase the drama and beauty of the scene. The view is from the south and looks down the valley through which the Tyne Water flows with the ruins of the castle perched on the east bank.
The sketch has been described as a ‘colour beginning’,4 although Finberg’s description of it as a ‘colour rough’ is perhaps more accurate, as it is a study rather than an unfinished picture.5 Its purpose was to lay out the colour structure of the design to help Turner work out the different areas of colour, tone, light and dark in his composition; an important consideration when a work is to be engraved. The castle and hill at the right are very faintly outlined in pencil, though the other hills and trees are not. At the bottom left is a serpentine line drawn in pencil representing a path, and there is a pencil scribble at the bottom of the sketch to the right of centre that may roughly indicate a seated figure with a standing figure to the right. It is at this point on the final design that there stands a shepherd. The rest of the picture is completed in watercolour with some areas being removed in the sky to lighten it.
John Gage began a debate about this picture with his comment that it was ‘the first work of Turner’s we have discovered to be wholly based on a structure of red, yellow and blue’, based on the as-yet unpublished colour theory of David Brewster.6 This, he argued, was an ‘important step in the direction of Turner’s later philosophy of colour.’7 Gerald Finley has taken issue with this suggestion, arguing that the use of primary colours in 1818 was due to artistic rather than optical theory.8 Andrew Wilton disagrees with both writers, arguing that ‘Turner certainly broke down the colour-components of his composition into elementary masses or blocks of colour, but he generally used secondary not primary colours for this purpose, adding primary colours locally afterwards.’9

Thomas Ardill
August 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.425 no.1059
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908 and 1913, vol.I, p.108 no.190
Thomson 1999, pp.29–30.
Gage 1969, p.31.
Finberg, I, p.493, CLXX 4.
Gage 1969, p.124.
Ibid., p.111.
Gerald Finley, ‘A “New Route” in 1822: Turner’s Colour and Optics’, in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.306, 1973, p.386.
Wilton 1979, p.172 note 28.
Wilton 1979, p.435 no.1143; Warrell 2007, p.103 under cats.61 and 62.
Warrell 2007, p.103.

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