Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of a Gothic Church


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 279 × 406 mm
frame: 330 × 458 × 35 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This study probably represents a particular building, perhaps in or near London, although it remains unidentified. There are watercolour views of other church interiors in the tiny Wilson sketchbook of about the same date (Tate). With its picturesque historical features and dramatic lighting, the subject clearly had some appeal for Turner, as he used it as late as 1819 for one of the few interiors in his Liber Studiorum series of landscape and architectural prints. This may in turn have influenced his 1822 composition of George IV in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh (shown nearby), with its similar perspective.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

24. N05536 Interior of a Gothic Church c. 1797

Mahogany, 10 15/16 × 16 (28 ×40·5)

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

Engr. By Turner for the Liber Studiorum, R.70, published on 1 January 1819, the date altered from the ‘1816’ of the third state (repr. Finberg 1924, pp. 278–9; the preliminary etching repr. p. 278).

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 167.

The figures in the engraving are absent from the painting and there are other variations as if the interior was seen from a slightly different viewpoint. The painting does not show the sharply delineated shaft of light falling diagonally on the end wall at the right of the first two states of the engraving (‘the daylight effect’; see Finberg, loc. cit.). The composition is close to a group of watercolours in the sketchbook, used in 1797, labelled by Turner ‘Studies for pictures—copies of Wilson’, particularly XXXVII—26/7 and 34/5 (the latter repr. in colour, as ‘36, 37’, in Wilkinson 1972, p. 53), though again there are differences in detail.

All the edges of the panel have been bevelled at the back and it is probable that it originally came from a door or panelling. Turner used the reverse as a palette and a considerable amount of paint remains. The surface of the painting is very dirty and damaged by scratching and abrasion, largely done before the paint had fully dried.

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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