Joseph Mallord William Turner

Norham Castle at Sunrise


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 308 × 488 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Subsequent commentators have adopted Finberg’s suggestion that this is a view of Norham Castle, on the River Tweed in Northumberland; at this point, the river marks the border between England and (to the left of the present composition) Scotland. A pencil view in the 1797 North of England sketchbook (Tate D00966; Turner Bequest XXXIV 57) had been developed through two pencil and watercolour studies (Tate D02343, D02344; Turner Bequest L B, C) towards two similar finished watercolours, Norham Castle on the Tweed, Summer’s Morn, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (private collection)1 and Norham Castle, Sunrise, of about the same date (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford).2 These led to a somewhat compressed watercolour design of about 1806–7 (Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D) engraved in 1816 for the Liber Studiorum (Tate impressions: A01119, A01120).
Turner evidently found Norham ‘inspirational’,3 returning briefly to sketch on Scottish tours in 1801 and 1831, and producing further finished watercolours: one of around 1822 is an informal illustration to Sir Walter Scott (private collection),4 in an upright interpretation flooded with afternoon light; another, for an 1834 edition of Scott, shows the moon rising behind the castle (private collection).5 In between came the design (Tate D18148; Turner Bequest CCVIII O)6 engraved in 1824 for the Rivers of England, which is a variant of the Liber design, but distinguished most immediately by its intense, jewel-like colouring. Towards the end of his career, Turner used the Liber composition for one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the series: Norham Castle, Sunrise, of about 1845 (Tate N01981),7 one of the most celebrated late, unfinished works in the Turner Bequest.
These views all show the Castle from a viewpoint on the right bank or the middle of the river, whereas the present study is from the left bank, and from a ‘close-up’8 viewpoint, emphasising the looming height of the castle from below; the effect is partly reminiscent of a different 1797 sketch, showing the castle and a gabled watermill below it on the right bank (Tate D00682; Turner Bequest XXVII U). It has been noted by Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage that the gabled building which appears on the left bank in the first pencil sketch mentioned above (D00966) appears to be echoed in the simplified brown form in the foreground below the castle here;9 there are also ghostly suggestions of sails indicated in washes against the bank on the right.
Wilton 1979, p.324 no.225.
Ibid., pp.324–5 no.226.
David Hill, Turner in the North: A Tour through Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, the Lake District, Lancashire and Lincolnshire in the Year 1797, New Haven and London 1996, p.88, and see p.88–[93] in general; see also ‘Retrospect: Norham Castle 1798–1840’, in Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, pp.172–4.
Wilton 1979, p.424 no.1052.
Ibid., p.430 no.1099.
Ibid., p.385 no.736, pl.175 (colour).
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.301–2 no.512, pl.514 (colour).
Shanes 1997, p.27.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.173
Ibid., p.174; followed in Spender 1980, p.122, and Butlin and Joll 1984, p.302.
Wilton 1979, p.385; see also Gage 1987, p.[88], where dated c.1823.
Warrell 1991, p.31.
Shanes 1997, p.95; see also pp.27, 100, 104.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Shanes 1997, pp.95, 100.

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