Joseph Mallord William Turner



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 187 × 261 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI Y

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘MORPETH NORTHD.’, published Charles Turner, 29 March 1809
Turner visited Morpeth, Northumberland – between two favourite sites, Durham and Norham Castle – on his 1801 tour of the north of England and Scotland; circling the surrounding countryside, he made several drawings in the Helmsley sketchbook (Tate D02510–D02513, D02516; Turner Bequest LIII 29, 29a, 30, 31, 33) of Morpeth Castle, or rather all that remained of it, the fourteenth century gatehouse (since restored).1 A further, slight sketch (Tate D02514, D02515; Turner Bequest LIII 31a–32), shows the view developed for the Liber Studiorum, looking south to the castle from Bridge Street, with the medieval bridge over the River Wansbeck in the foreground; the latter was later made redundant by the construction of a new bridge nearby in 1829–30 and is now only ‘fragmentarily preserved’.2
The sketch apparently shows the buttresses of the medieval chantry on the left. Turner changed this side of the composition for the Liber, adding what appears to be an inn sign, perhaps as an additional accent of chiaroscuro in counterpoint to the one in the distance across the bridge, in a composition notable for its interplay of light and shade. The heraldic symbols on it, a crescent and a ‘lion statant, the tail extended’3 on a crown (as clarified in Turner’s subsequent outline etching), are of local significance, being those of the ancient Percy family, latterly created Dukes of Northumberland. Turner had drawn the statue of such a lion on the bridge below their seat, Alnwick Castle, in his 1797 drawing in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00951; Turner Bequest XXXIV 44), the basis of his watercolour of about 1829 for Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide),4 and would have known the similar statue (now at Syon House) on the façade of Northumberland House in central London.5
Subtle use is made of shadows from scaffolding (not present in the original sketch), against a white wall parallel to the picture plane, to imply the third dimension. Despite the sunlight and the busy market stalls (with another in the shadows on the left laden with children’s toys), Ruskin took the distant ruin as a symbol of the folly of ‘human pride, ... roofless and black’;6 Stopford Brooke developed this pessimistic view: ‘The drawing is then filled with the spirit of the gray North – the spirit, in the town itself, of the set sad struggle of life sternly endured through poverty and pain – the spirit, in the country beyond the town, of that rude romantic passion and battle which beats like a heart in the Border ballads.’7 The subject may have been deliberately intended as a lowly ‘Architectural’ parallel to the everyday country scenes in some of the ‘Pastoral’ plates of the Liber.8
The Landmark Trust, accessed 6 December 2005,
Nikolaus Pevsner and Ian A. Richmond, Northumberland, The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1957 (reprinted 1970), p.215.
Charles Mosley ed., Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage, 106th edition, Crans 1999, vol.II, p.2117.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.395 no.818, reproduced.
‘Northumberland House’ and ‘Syon House’ in Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert eds., The London Encyclopædia, London 1983, pp.554, 853.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.433.
Brooke 1885, p.74.
See Forrester 1996, p.69, citing Ian Warrell and Diane Perkins, Turner & Architecture, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.12.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.40–9; 1906, pp.49–58; Finberg 1924, pp.65–84.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (M22828); quoted in Alexander J. Finberg, The History of Turner’s Liber Studiorum with a New Catalogue Raisonné, London 1924, pp.83–4, and Forrester 1996, p.69.
Rawlinson 1878, p.49.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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