Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figure Studies; The Halle and Church of Notre-Dame at Calais


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 118 × 78 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXVI 13 a

Catalogue entry

These previously unidentified sketches of figures and local architecture were clearly taken at the French port of ‘Calais’, given Turner’s inscription to the right of the church. The artist disembarked there at the very beginning of his tour on 11 August 1824. The church is the Eglise de Notre-Dame, a thirteenth-century building constructed by the English.1 The tower drawn next to the church is part of the old covered market at Calais: the ‘Halle’ on the Grand Place.2 Both monuments are depicted in two pen and ink drawings on blue paper, dated between 1827 and 1829 (Tate D24857–D24858; Turner Bequest CCLX 21–2).
The rest of the sheet is filled with swiftly recorded sketches of local people going about their daily business, perhaps buying and selling their wares at the main square. Turner has annotated the drawings, making note of what the figures are wearing: ‘French fishing caps’, ‘red shoes’, blue jackets and ‘large brass earings’. The citizens of Calais appear again in the same series of pen and ink sketches as noted above, in crowded street scenes and at the daily fish market: see Tate D24857, D24882, D24968, D24969; Turner Bequest CCLX 21, 46, 132, 133.
Turner appears to have found Calais a stimulating place, despite almost all contemporary guidebooks advising travellers to leave the port as soon as they arrive. John Murray, author of A Handbook for Travellers on the Continent, for example, writes that with the exception of:
an Englishman setting his foot for the first time on the Continent, to whom everything is novel, Calais, has little that is remarkable to show. After an hour or two it becomes tiresome, and a traveller will do well to quit it as soon as he has cleared his baggage from the customhouse.3
Turner found the port and its inhabitants worthy of observation and record, depicting them on a number of other occasions from 1802 onwards. See for example, the Small Calais Pier and Calais Pier sketchbooks (Tate D04190–D04218, D04269–D04274, D04976–D05005; Turner Bequest LXXI–LXXI 22, 67–72, LXXXI 74–103) and the subsequent painting at the National Gallery, London; the Remarks (Italy) sketchbook (Tate D16884–D16886; Turner Bequest CXCIII 103–4; and various loose studies (Tate D20218, D24858, D24877–D24880, D24906, D24907, D24949; Turner Bequest CCXX K, CCLX 22, 41–44, 70, 71, 113).

The flag at bottom right, orientated inversely relative to the foliation, is a continuation of the drawing on the opposite folio (Tate D19578; Turner Bequest CCXVI 14).

Alice Rylance-Watson
February 2014

‘The Church of Notre Dame’, Calais Côte d’Opale, accessed 17 February 2014,, see also Thomas Byerley, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume XXXI, London 1838, p.418.
Thomas Byerley, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume XXXI, London 1838, p.405.
John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers on the Continent, London 1853, p.103

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