Joseph Mallord William Turner

Norham Castle: Colour Study


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 662 × 838 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest L B

Display caption

As part of the process of painting the view of Norham that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (no.41), Turner executed two large studies (nos.39 and 40), in which he set out the composition and experimented with alternative light effects. The backs of these sheets are prepared with washes of different pigments, and it seems that he was exploring the possibilities of achieving a suffused back lighting of the kind then popular in the fashion for transparencies.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

This watercolour on lightweight white wove Whatman was backed with two laminated sheets of a very similar white paper that is partially painted on the reverse and was probably an initial study. The main image has a graphite pencil drawing. Areas nearer the water, and some highlights in the foreground, were stopped out, before blue wash for the sky and then a brown wash for the foreground were applied very wet, to establish a colour harmony. The stopping-out for the foreground water prevented this wash 'taking' in this area if it ran over it: thus both stopping-out and initial laying-in could be done rapidly and spontaneously without the latter destroying the intention of the former. Quite a number of washes of mixed greens and mixed brown ochres followed, and the stopping-out survived it. This, and its slight fluorescence in ultraviolet light, suggests that Turner used glue size, possibly hardened with alum, to ensure that he could work over this area several times without losing the initial effect of the stopping-out. The pink wash, applied last, did 'take' as the stopping-out began to be washed off. This process is also sometimes called a resist technique.
The golden yellow pigment in the foreground is Indian yellow. This is fairly sensitive to light, but it has survived very well here, as have the pink and the mixed greens.
This composite work might have been intended to be viewed against a light, as a transparency. Related works are Chepstow Castle (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) and Llandeilo Bridge and Dynevor Castle (National Museum Wales, Cardiff) which appear to be more deliberately created as transparencies. The former has been painted carefully on the reverse so that the two images register and enhance the light/dark contrast when illuminated from behind.1 The latter is in effect a three-layer composite as is Norham Castle, but has a correspondingly registered image on the middle sheet, hidden from view until it is illuminated from the back, and only discovered in the course of recent conservation treatment.2 This construction suggests a more conscious preparation and presentation as a transparency than in the case of Norham Castle.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Peter Bower, ‘Turner’s Papers: A Catalogue of the Papers Used by J.M.W. Turner in the Turner Bequest, Clore Gallery, Tate Gallery. Part 1: 1787–1802: TB I–TB LXX’, 1994, Tate catalogue files, unpaginated.
Ibid.; see also Christine MacKay, ‘Turner’s “Llandeilo Bridge and Dynevor Castle”’, Burlington Magazine, vol.140, no.1143, June 1998, pp.383–6.

Catalogue entry

This is a study for the finished watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (private collection),1 or perhaps for the second version of the subject (The Higgins Bedford);2 see also Tate D02344 (Turner Bequest L C). The technique in use here is similar to that of the ambitious Welsh studies of these years (compare Tate D01115; Turner Bequest XXXVI U), with prominent use of stopping-out and pencil employed only to give minimal indications of certain details.
This composition of Norham was to be used several times by Turner, in his Liber Studiorum series (see the entry for Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D), for the Rivers of England (Tate D18148; Turner Bequest CCVIII O),3 and most famously for Norham Castle, Sunrise, a late reworking of the theme in oil, in terms of dazzling sunlight that almost obliterates the subject (Tate N01981).4 The slight pencil drawing on which it and D02344 (Turner Bequest L C) are both based is in the North of England sketchbook of 1797 (Tate D00966; Turner Bequest XXXIV 57). Turner made another rapid sketch of the same view when he revisited Norham in 1801; see the Helmsley sketchbook (Tate D02538–D02539; Turner Bequest LIII 44a–45).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.324 no.225.
Ibid., pp.324–5 no.226.
Ibid., p.385 no.736, pl.175 (colour).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.301–2 no.512, pl.514 (colour).

Andrew Wilton
January 2013

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