Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dinner in a Great Room with Figures in Costume


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 908 × 1219 mm
frame: 1090 × 1400 × 90 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

The influence of Rembrandt's dramatic effects of chiaroscuro on Turner can be readily appreciated in this unfinished painting. Turner had been impressed by Rembrandt's art since he had been a student, but many of the paintings he produced during the last years of the 1820s, and on into the 1830s, demonstrate his revived respect for the Dutch old master. The left hand side of this work seems to be indebted to a painting formerly thought to be by Rembrandt, which passed through the London art market in 1821; the small interior scene is now in the National Gallery. The costumes worn by the figures suggest that Turner may have intended to complete a historical subject.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

[from] Nos. 444–9: Figure Subjects and Interiors associated with Petworth and East Cowes Castle, c. 1830–7

THESE works, none of which were exhibited by Turner, nor therefore given titles by him, have all been associated with Petworth since they were inventoried in the twentieth century, partly because of their similarity to the Petworth interiors with figures painted in body colour on blue paper (CCXLIV) and partly because they relate to such exhibited pictures associated with Petworth as Jessica, Lord Percy under Attainder and Watteau Study (Nos. 333 [T03887], 338 [N00515] and 340 [N00514]). It has recently been discovered by Patrick Youngblood, however, that at least one of these paintings, that formerly known as Music Party, Petworth (No. 447 [N03550]), shows an interior at East Cowes Castle. In fact the origins of this picture are even more complex; see the entry for this work. It is probably a mistake to attach these works too closely to any specific location, though Turner's imagination was clearly stimulated by the social life at these two houses in which, through his friendship with Lord Egremont and John Nash, he was particularly at home.

The dating of these works also depends on that of the paintings mentioned above, which were exhibited in 1830 and 1831, together with further scenes of figures in interiors such as Pilate washing his Hands, also exhibited in 1830 (No. 332 [N00510]), and Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, exhibited in 1832 (No. 346 [N00517]). Rembrandt's Daughter, exhibited in 1827 (No. 238), and Boccaccio, exhibited the following year and also associated with East Cowes Castle (No. 244 [N00507]), are perhaps slightly less advanced in style than these unfinished interiors which seem to form a series painted over a number of years up to 1837, the year that Lord Egremont's death bought an end to Turner's association with Petworth (see under No. 449 [N01988]). All, save No. 444 [N05511], reflect a renewed interest in the work of Rembrandt, seen with Turner's own emphasis on light and colour.

Lit. Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 44–5; Gowing 1966, p. 36; Wilton 1979, pp. 208–10; Youngblood 1983, pp. 16–17.

445. [N05502] Dinner in a Great Room with Figures in Costume c. 1830–35


Canvas, 35 3/4 × 48 (91 × 122)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Exh. Cardiff 1951; Tate Gallery 1959 (349); Australian tour 1960 (9); New York 1966 (13, repr. p. 59); Paris 1972 (269, repr.); R.A. 1974–5 (338); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (32).

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 161; Gowing 1966, p. 36.

Formerly called ‘A Costume Piece’; the present title was given by Lawrence Gowing. Like Nos. 446 [N05496] and 447 [N03550] this seems to have been inspired by the informal social life, with an element of dressing up, at Petworth under the third Earl of Egremont; see also No. 449 [N01988]. It is also one of the works most strongly influenced by Rembrandt, and therefore probably to be dated to the early or mid 1830s. In particular the figure silhouetted against a shaft of light on the left seems to reflect the early painting by Rembrandt formerly called ‘The Philosopher’ which seems to have passed through the London sale rooms twice in the 1790s and perhaps again in 1821 (National Gallery, London, no. 3214; see Neil Maclaren National Gallery Catalogues: The Dutch School 1960, p. 332).

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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