Joseph Mallord William Turner

Music Party, East Cowes Castle


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1213 × 905 mm
frame: 1420 × 1130 × 130 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This unfinished study shows a group of figures playing or languidly listening to music in an unidentified setting. It was for many years associated with the interiors of Petworth, but has more recently been linked with the Octagon Room at East Cowes Castle; Turner's hostess at Cowes was Mrs John Nash, who was an accomplished pianist. There is, however, a third possibility based on the fact that the central figure is based on a pencil sketch recorded during Turner's stay in Paris in 1832. That pencil sketch may be a hasty portrait of his acquaintance the famous scientist Mary Somerville, who was also a talented musician. If the setting is indeed French, the sparkle and light of the fabrics may perhaps be another attempt to evoke the shimmer of Watteau.

Gallery label, September 2004

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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.

447. [N03550] Music at East Cowes Castle c. 1835


Canvas, 47 3/4 × 35 5/8 (121 × 90·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exh. Amsterdam (repr. in colour), Berne, Paris (repr. in colour), Brussels (repr. in colour), Liege (repr. in colour) (35), Venice (repr. in colour) and Rome (repr. in colour) (41) 1947–8; New York 1966 (11, repr. p. 36); R.A. 1974–5 (336); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (31, repr.); Paris 1983–4 (39, repr. in colour); Birmingham 1984.

Lit. MacColl 1920, p. 44; Falk 1938, p. 97; Herrmann 1963, p. 27, pl. 12; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 45, pl. 92; Gowing 1966, p. 36, repr.; Lindsay 1966, p. 179; Gaunt 1971, p. 8; Herrmann 1975, p. 37, pl. 137; Maurice Guillaud in exh. cat., Paris 1981–2, pp. 328–32, pl. 670; Youngblood 1983, p. 17; Patrick Youngblood, ‘Three Mis-Identified Works by J.M.W. Turner’, Burlington Magazine, cxxv 1983, pp. 615–19, fig. 55; Selby Whittingham, ‘Turner's “Music Party”’, Burlington Magazine, cxxvi 1984, p. 92.

Like Two Women and a Letter (No. 448 [N05501]) this picture develops on a large scale the interior scenes of the informal social life at Petworth and to a lesser extent East Cowes Castle found in the series of figure drawings on blue paper (CCXLIV). Formerly entitled ‘Music Party, Petworth’, the picture has been demonstrated by Patrick Youngblood to show the octagon room at East Cowes Castle, demolished 1949–50 but of which a photograph exists (repr. Youngblood, op. cit., fig. 54). Youngblood dates the work ‘at least ten years later’ than Turner's visit to East Cowes Castle in 1827 (see No. 243), but Gage redates the picture to the time of this visit (exh. cat., Paris 1983–4). However, Maurice Guillaud reproduces a page from the ‘Seine and Paris’ sketchbook (CCLIV-24; repr. loc. cit., fig. 671) which bears what seems to be a study for the seated figure in black and gold as well as a small sketch of figures at music with an arch behind which could well be a first idea for this painting; the sketchbook was apparently used exclusively in France, probably in 1829 (see Andrew Wilton in exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, p. 247), though Gerald Finley has redated the sketchbook to 1832 (Gerald Finley, Landscapes of Memory, 1980, p. 245). Selby Whittingham (loc.cit.) has pointed out that Turner made at least one other visit to East Cowes Castle, at Christmas 1832 (see John Summerson, The Life and Work of John Nash, 1980, p. 185). The reference in James Pennethorne's lost diary, under 27 December, to ‘Evening Theatricals. Young Kean’ could perhaps refer to the sort of entertainment shown in this picture. Whittingham goes on to suggest that the painting was begun for John Nash in 1832–3 and was left unfinished when Nash ran into the financial difficulties that led to the sale of many of the contents of his London house in April 1834.

In any case, it seems as if No. 447 [N03550] was painted not on the spot but in recollection, combining the octagon room from East Cowes Castle with an incident sketched in France in either 1829 or 1832. The painting bears similarities both to the Cowes sketch Between Decks of 1827 (No. 226) and such Rembrandtesque paintings as Jessica, exhibited in 1830 (No. 333), but in its freedom of handling and thickness of paint it may well be a few years later still.

There are two horizontal tears in the canvas, one through the neck of the right-hand girl, the other a bit lower down. There have also been some losses resulting from cleavage between paint layers.

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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