Joseph Mallord William Turner

Glastonbury Tor across the Somerset Levels

1811

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 75 x 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08595
Turner Bequest CXXIII 119 a

Catalogue entry

The profile of the distant Tor and the position of the church tower towards the left of its summit indicate that it is seen from the north-west across the Somerset Levels, probably from the hills around Cheddar Gorge (extensively recorded on the same tour in the Stonehenge sketchbook: Tate; Turner Bequest CXXV b), about ten miles away. There is a westwards view towards the coast from Cheddar on folio 121 recto (D08592; CXXIII 118), and possibly another view of the Tor on folio 158 verso (D08659; CXXIII 155a).
Turner’s inscription ‘Avalon’ or a close variation shows an awareness of the traditional identification of Glastonbury as the Isle of Avalon in Arthurian legend. He could have read of it in Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, in the comprehensive 1795 Anderson edition of British Poets, which he may have owned as early as 1798.1 In the ‘Third Song’, first published in 1612, Drayton’s Muse travels to ‘Avalon to Arthur’s grave’, later described as ‘aged Avalon’ and footnoted as Glastonbury, while in his accompanying explanatory ‘Illustrations’ John Selden gives an account of the supposed medieval discovery there of the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.2
There are drawings made at Glastonbury itself on folios 170 verso and 171 recto (D08681, D08682; CXXIII 167a, 168), and sketches at Tintagel, Arthur’s birthplace according to legend, in the contemporary Cornwall and Devon sketchbook (see under Tate D41308; Turner Bequest CXXV a 32).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.113.
2
Robert Anderson (ed.), The Works of the British Poets, London 1795, vol.III, pp.[265], 266 note (a), 275–6.

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