Joseph Mallord William Turner

Gloucester Cathedral (‘Boston Stump’ or ‘The Hare’)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 230 × 300 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 307

Technique and condition

This study on white wove paper was made using watercolour with some graphite pencil drawing applied on top or between the washes of colour. The faint tree-line in the middle ground has been drawn in pencil.
In most areas the colour is made up of one or two thick washes. The grey tones in this work are made of Prussian blue mixed with dark red ochre. Viridian and yellow ochre were mixed and used for the greenest areas, and brown earth pigments are present, sometimes mixed with the other colours. This is an early use of viridian in watercolour by Turner or any other watercolourist: here he has not used its intense bluish green to greatest effect, since the yellow ochre in the mixture makes it look less distinctive.
On the horizon there are bands of yellow made from a yellow ochre and ultramarine. The latter looks a different shade from its usual reddish tone, because light exposure when the sheet was covered with a window mount has left the central area permanently yellowed, which causes the ultramarine to look more green than intended. Warmer tones now appear even warmer than intended, for the same reason.

Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Catalogue entry

(see main catalogue text)
Various topographical identifications of the tower in this evocative composition – ‘a quintessential image of a nation proud of its history and independence’1 – have been offered. It is usually known as ‘Gloucester Cathedral’, following Rawlinson’s tentative title in his catalogue of Turner’s engravings, while he also offered the alternative ‘Boston Stump’.2 Turner’s tower and pinnacles seems too slender to be Gloucester’s, which he had recorded close up in slightly truncated form in the 1795 South Wales sketchbook (Tate D00623; Turner Bequest XXVI 68 verso). Nor does the design appear to show St Botolph’s Church, Boston, Lincolnshire, known as the Boston Stump, which he had drawn in the 1797 North of England sketchbook (Tate D00992; Turner Bequest XXXIV 81a), with its prominent octagonal stone lantern between its four pinnacles.
In discussing a closely related watercolour (Tate D25368, and see also D25334; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 246, 212), Gerald Wilkinson questioned the Gloucester and Boston identifications: ‘It strikes me as a midland town with a parish church. The colours, of evening or early morning, are consistent with a smoky atmosphere.’3 More recently James Hamilton has made a specific case for the subject here and in Tate D25368 being St Mary’s Church, Warwick, seen to the south from Hill Wootton,4 relating it to Turner’s Midlands tour of 1830, with the ‘knock-on effect’ of redating the whole of the ‘Little Liber’.5 However, St Mary’s Church tower, which Turner drew from Warwick itself in the 1830 Kenilworth sketchbook (Tate D22048–D22050; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 39, 39a, 40) has tall pinnacles at its corners but also a distinctive shorter pinnacle at the centre of each side, not clearly shown in the present work; nor does there appear to be a sketch from the distant vantage point Hamilton suggests. It seems entirely possible that in defining the tower and pinnacles in two or three strokes of watercolour here, Turner did not have any particular church in mind, as suggested by Ruskin and Finberg’s generic ‘Cathedral Tower’ description.6
Hamilton 2003, p.151.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.390.
Gerald Wilkinson, Turner’s Colour Sketches 1820–34, London 1975, p.119.
See Hamilton 1997, p.255; and Hamilton 2003, p.149.
Abstract of James Hamilton’s paper ‘Turner’s Birmingham – Some Local Issues raised by the Exhibition “Turner’s Britain”’ for a January 2004 conference at the Barber Institute, Birmingham in ‘Turner 2004: New Perspectives’, 2004, p.5.
See also Shanes 1997, p.28.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cxi, and vol.II 1913, pp.211, 390 no.809.
See Rawlinson II 1913, p.390; and Dupret 1989, p.46.
The First Portion of the Valuable Engravings from the Works of the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A. ..., Christie, Manson & Woods, London 24 March 1873 (928).
Rawlinson II 1913, p.390; Dupret 1989, p.46.
See Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.60, 62.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.280.
Shanes 1997, pp.94 under ‘Boston Stump/Gloucester Cathedral’, 98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’ as ‘?Study for “Gloucester Cathedral” (also known as “Boston Stump” and “The Hare”)’

Matthew Imms
November 2011

Read full Catalogue entry

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