Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dunwich; ?Orfordness Lighthouse


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 118 × 115 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCIX 41 a

Catalogue entry

Here Turner pictures aspects of the Suffolk coastal village of Dunwich (see also Tate D18257–D18258; Turner Bequest CCIX 51a–52). In the Anglo-Saxon period Dunwich developed into an important trade centre and by the eleventh century it was a powerful crusader port and naval base. Fishing, shipbuilding, trade and religious patronage enabled the town to thrive up to the fifteen hundreds but over the centuries, as coastal erosion slowly began to eat away at the land, Dunwich was eventually reduced to no more than a small village.
In the uppermost sketches Turner renders a headland with the ruins of All Saints’ Church atop it. By 1930 the church was almost entirely lost as a result of coastal erosion, only a buttress remains and the rest of its masonry lies in fragments and rubble on the seabed below. The ‘sunken city’ is depicted in a watercolour drawing on blue paper of circa 1827, which may have been developed from the present sketches (Manchester City Galleries). The drawing was translated into an engraving for the Picturesque Views on the East Coast of England project, but prints were never published (Tate impression T04613).
A lighthouse is also pictured on this sheet, with details of its window and what appears to be a plaque. Inscribed close by is the Roman numeral ‘MDCCXII’ (1712) and the word ‘Bull’ or ‘Blythe’. This may be the lighthouse at Orfordness which is recorded on the folio opposite (Tate D18238; Turner Bequest CCIX 42).

Alice Rylance-Watson
January 2015

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