For Turner’s visit to Sir John Leicester at Tabley in 1808, see Introduction to the sketchbook. The drawing shows three pictures, one on either side of a door and one over it. The pictures are annotated with their titles within their frames and the artists below them, as follows: on the left is a ‘Landscape’ by ‘Sir J. Leicester, Bart.:’; over the door is ‘The Money Changers in the Temple’ and ascribed to ‘M.A Carvagio’; and on the right is ‘Beeston Castle’ by ‘G. Barrett’.
Sir John Leicester was an amateur artist, some of whose pictures, ‘rapidly hurried over’, hung at Tabley.1 None of them is known today. William Jerdan tells of Turner while staying at Tabley making some small adjustment to a ‘landscape’ on which his host ‘was at work as the fancy mood struck him’;
When assembled for the tedious half hour before dinner, we all gave our opinions on its progress, its beauties, and its defects. I stuck a blue wafer on to show where I thought a bit of bright colour or a light would be advantageous; and Turner took the brush and gave a touch here and there to mark some improvements.
Allegedly, once back in London Turner’s mercenary side got the better of him and he upset his host by sending a bill for ‘Instructions in painting’.2 Quite apart from the possibility that Turner had given such instruction and thought a fee was legitimate, Jerdan’s story may not be reliable anyway. He refers to Sir John as ‘His Lordship’ whereas the title of Lord de Tabley was only created in 1826, a year before his death, and there is no other evidence of a visit from Turner during that late period. In Turner’s drawing, a large painting by Sir John flanks Beeston Castle by George Barret (1738[or 32]–84), which Sir John presented via William Carey to the Royal Irish Institution, Dublin, in 1823;3 this was an inherited work, which had been painted for Sir Peter Byrne Leicester, Sir John’s father. Beeston Castle, near Tarporley, Cheshire, is a spectacularly sited ruin now in the care of English Heritage; Turner made a watercolour of the castle, circa 1809 (Ulster Museum, Belfast),4 having presumably seen it during his visit to Tabley in 1808.
William Carey, Some Memoirs of the Patronage and Progress of the Fine Arts, in England and Ireland During the Reigns of George the Second, George the Third, and His Present Majesty; with Anecdotes of Lord de Tabley, of Other Patrons, and of Eminent Artists, and Occasional References to British Works of Art, London 1826, p.20; Douglas Hall, ‘The Tabley House Papers’, The Walpole Society, vol.38, 1960–2, p.105 no.259 records a watercolour by Sir John of Chambéry.
William Jerdan, An Autobiography, London 1852, vol.II, p.260, and William T. Whitley, Art in England 1821–37, Cambridge 1930, pp.135–6.
Hall 1960–2 p.65 records the Institution’s thanks, dated 10 May 1823, and acknowledgements of its arrival, 21 May. The picture is presumed to be destroyed.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.359 no.525.
- Tabley House(29)