Joseph Mallord William Turner

Durham Cathedral: The Interior, Looking East along the South Aisle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 758 × 579 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XXXVI G

Display caption

Since 1794 Turner's depictions of architecture had become increasingly sublime as he strove to recreate the sense of awe imposed on the visitor by the immense structures of England's cathedrals. For this type of watercolour he evolved a sophisticated technique of scratching away or lifting out colour to introduce light into the sombre interior. This view manages to suggest the towering grandeur of Durham's distinctive architecture, while at the same time creating a sense of depth by choosing a viewpoint of overlapping and interconnected spaces. Turner executed another interior view of Durham Cathedral, which was engraved to illustrate a volume of essays (see no.65 in the nearby showcase).

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Technique and condition

This pencil and watercolour composition has been executed on white paper. The lighter areas have been washed out, for example the side lighting of the aisles. Very detailed graphite pencil work was used to draw the arch and in this area darker washes of brown ochres were mixed with black. Yellow ochre was used to give ‘golden’ highlights on the tomb, while a brighter yellow lake or possibly gamboge (deep yellow) was used for sunlit areas.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

This watercolour is based (with variations) on a drawing in the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook (Tate D01015; Turner Bequest XXXV 12). Despite its impressive atmosphere and rich tonality, and the fact that Turner himself may have given the drawing a stout board backing, it is not a finished work: the rendering of foreground details is generalised, and there are no figures apart from some distant suggestions. A comparison with the highly wrought interiors of Westminster and Ely, which were all exhibited at the Royal Academy (respectively British Museum, London, private collection, Aberdeen Art Gallery),1 points up the technical differences between finished and unfinished works.
Turner made a smaller finished view of the interior of the cathedral;2 it is executed in grey and buff washes over pencil, reinforced with pen and brown ink, and measures 248 x 165 mm. The drawing reappeared on the art market at Christie’s, London, 21 November 2002 (42). It was engraved by S. Porter and published in the 1802 second edition of T. Warton’s Essays on Gothic Architecture (Tate impression: T05939). Here, too, the human figure appears only as a minute and distant contrast to the colossal scale of the architecture.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.314 no.138, reproduced, 321 nos.194 and 195, reproduced.
Ibid., p.330 no.276, as untraced.
Blank (formerly laid down).

Andrew Wilton
January 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop