Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of a Great House: The Drawing Room, East Cowes Castle


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 908 × 1219 mm
frame: 1239 × 1550 × 96 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner didn’t give this unfinished painting a title. It is thought to be a room in East Cowes Castle, the home of the architect John Nash on the Isle of Wight, where Turner spent the late summer of 1827. Near the centre, the bright emerald green and red vermilion give a strong colour contrast. Emerald green was the first intensely green pigment Turner could obtain, and it had not long been available. Turner created the light by using a palette knife, a brush, the brush-end and scratches from his thumbnail (which he kept long for this purpose).

Gallery label, July 2020

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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.

449. [N01988] Interior at Petworth c. 1837


Canvas, 35 3/4 × 48 (91 × 122)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1906, returned to the National Gallery 1956, and to the Tate Gallery 1961.

Exh. New York, Chicago and Toronto 1946–7 (51, pl. 43); New York, St Louis and San Francisco 1956–7 (113, repr. in colour p. 18); R.A. 1974–5 (339, repr.).

Lit. MacColl 1920, p. 30; Falk 1938, pp. 97–8, 143; Davies 1946, p. 154; Clark 1949, p. 103; Clare 1951, p. 79, repr. p. 74; Davies 1959, p. 100; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 45, colour pl. xviii; Reynolds 1969, pp. 135–7, colour pl. 114; Gaunt 1971, p. 8, colour pl. 35; Herrmann 1975, pp. 37, 233, colour pl. 134; Wilton 1979, p. 210, pl. 222; Youngblood 1983, pp. 17, 31–2, pl. 3.

Although identified as Petworth when first listed in the National Gallery inventory in 1905 the picture depicts no recognisable room. Youngblood, however, sees the setting as a modification of the Marble Hall (op. cit., pl. 20) with the fireplace replaced by a large open arch; Turner had shown the Marble Hall in more than one of his gouaches of Petworth (e.g. CCXLIV-116, repr. Youngblood op. cit., pl. 21). In any case, the picture seems to be the culmination of a series of oil paintings of interiors associated with Petworth (see Nos. 445–8). David Thomas, in an unpublished lecture, has suggested that this picture represents Turner's reaction to the news of his friend and patron Lord Egremont's death in 1837. The suggestion of a catafalque with coat-of-arms, surrounded by dogs, and the sculptures that possibly allude to Lord Egremont's collection of antique and contemporary examples, support this. All is in a state of dissolution, above all from the power of light flooding in from the right.

The heavy drying-crackle in the foreground, rare in Turner's work, indicates his haste. Before restoration in 1974 the gaps left by the shrinking of the top layers of paint revealed a layer of bright red underlying much of the foreground.

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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