Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Dunstanburgh Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 273 × 435 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 191

Display caption

The location of this building on the edge of a bluff, and the general massing of land and sea strongly tie it to Dunstanburgh Castle as represented by Turner in his view of the ruin for his 'England and Wales' series. It may well be that here the painter merely indicated the castle in an extremely summary form, as we know he did with other buildings elsewhere (no.27). If this is Dunstanburgh, then a dawn scene is depicted as in the 'England and Wales' drawing, although the demarcation between sea and sky that should be apparent on the extreme right is somewhat lost in a mass of dark tones.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This colour study has been proposed by Eric Shanes as relating to the watercolour Dunstanborough Castle, Northumberland of about 1828 (Manchester Art Gallery),1 engraved in 1830 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04553, T06085).2 Turner first visited the coastal ruin in 1797 and produced watercolours and paintings of it until as late as 1834, including a watercolour design of about 1806–7 for the Liber Studiorum (Tate D08118; Turner Bequest CXVI Q) under which the various versions are discussed in detail. The setting of the view to the north in the Liber design is closely comparable with the England and Wales version.
Shanes has suggested that the ‘very cursory but topographically accurate’3 approximation of the present composition to other versions may be explained by Turner’s ‘working here at speed and from memory’ to establish a general sense of the castle at dawn. David Hill has described Shanes’s identification as ‘positively wrong’,4 albeit without offering an alternative.
Gerald Wilkinson notes the ‘very wide angle of view (such as Turner often used, apparently instinctively) which contains in effect two contrasting pictures.’5
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.395 no.814, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, pp.55, 96, 105.
Shanes 1997, p.19.
Hill 1997, p.7.
Wilkinson 1975, p.145.
Technical notes:
As often in such compositions by Turner, the disk of the sun is reserved as blank white paper for maximum luminosity. Eric Shanes notes that the sun’s reflection ‘was achieved by the removal of colour with a sponge’, while the ‘sunlit areas of the castle are painted in gouache’.1
A vertical tear from the middle of the top edge has been repaired from the verso.
Shanes 1997, p.55.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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