Joseph Mallord William Turner

Oxford: The Interior of the Hall at Christ Church


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 346 × 481 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest L J

Display caption

Turner first carefully ruled a framework of guidelines, based on a vanishing point just below the bust on the wall at the left. He then added details of the architecture. But this procedure is not a full method of perspective: there is no indication that Turner used measurements or a plan of the building, nor that he calculated the recession to take full account of his viewing position.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This is a study for the Oxford Almanack design in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,1 engraved by James Basire for the 1807 edition (impressions: British Museum, London); see also the reduced 1823 version by Joseph Skelton for his Oxonia Antiqua Restaurata (Tate impression: T05925). Patrick Youngblood notes that this is the only preliminary study for an Almanack subject to survive; he refers to it as ‘an enormous vertical view’,2 a description that seems to be confused with one of the cathedral interiors, or perhaps the studies of New College Chapel (Tate D02346, D02347; Turner Bequest L E, F). Christ Church hall is, however, indeed high at over 15 metres (50 feet), and with great economy Turner conveys its scale as well as much of the detail of the interior. Colin Harrison supposes that Turner made this impressive study at the same time as his view of the alterations to the entrance to the hall (Tate D02364; Turner Bequest L W).3
Turner scholar Maurice Davies has analysed the drawing as follows:
Turner determined the angles of many elements of the building with the aid of a carefully drawn network of ruled pencil lines that converge to the perspective centre point (near the left-hand side), which serves (perfectly correctly) as the vanishing point for those lines perpendicular to the picture plane. With very few exceptions, all elements of the building that should converge to this point do so, and Turner made corrections to ensure that this is so. Other lines are also carefully drawn: the back wall of the hall includes ruled lines, and others assist in the positioning of the tops of the windows in the bay. Also, some measurements seem to have been marked off: for example, to space the window mullions and the coats of arms on the end wall.4
Despite these careful precautions on Turner’s part, the Almanack Commissioners considered that the finished watercolour flouted topographical accuracy, and Hugh O’Neill (1784–1824) was asked to ‘sketch more correctly some parts’ of the design. The principal modifications appear to have been made to the pictures, which are given more prominence in the engraving. O’Neill was later to replace Turner as draughtsman for the Almanack.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.333–4 no.301, reproduced.
Youngblood 1984, p.17.
Harrison 2000, p.70.
Davies 1992, pp.59–60.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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