Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figures in a Building


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 1219 mm
frame: 1310 × 1620 × 205 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Besides Rembrandt, Turner's later paintings of figure subjects were influenced by more recent artists, such as RP Bonington and CR Leslie, who painted historical scenes in interiors; he was also influenced by the current fashion for illustrations of such subjects in popular magazines. This is one of several works where Turner seems to be developing a historical subject without any very clear direction, as if hoping a theme might occur as he moved his paints around on the canvas. The stone vault resembles a dungeon and the figures are in period costume. The subject is painted over an earlier landscape.

Gallery label, August 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.

446. [N05496] Figures in a Building c. 1830–35


Canvas, 36 × 48 (91·5 × 122)

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

Exh. Agnew 1967 (20); Dresden (13, repr.) and Berlin (13, pl. 33) 1972.

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 160.

Very close in character to No. 445 [N05502], though the setting with its heavy vaults may be a subterranean one. The figures are even more Rembrandtesque.

The existing picture was painted over a completely unrelated landscape composition with brown foreground and blue sky, thinly painted, and strongly defined buildings on the sky line, painted with considerable impasto; the building were level with the waists of the figures on the left and are still discernible. This composition had fully dried before the present one was added on top. The lack of adhesion produced considerable losses, particularly along the edges top right and in an area below the figures on the left; these losses, though touched in, can still be detected as depressions in the surface of the picture.

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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