Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rochester Castle and Bridge, from the North


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIX 18

Display caption

The watercolour of 'Rochester Castle and Bridge' (no.56) was apparently elaborated from this sketchbook drawing.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Made with the sketchbook inverted according to its foliation, this detailed drawing of Rochester encompasses the Cathedral at left, the Castle at centre, and the Bridge towards bottom right. The latter extends across the gutter, and slightly onto folio 27 verso (D17393). A vessel sits in the river in the foreground, its masts cutting across the urban sprawl behind.
It is widely agreed that this is one of a group of sketches which informed the watercolour Rochester, on the River Medway, of 1822 (Tate D18156; Turner Bequest CCVIII W),1 which was engraved by Thomas Lupton for the Rivers of England series and published in January 1824 (Tate impressions T06370, T04796–T04798). Ian Warrell groups this page alongside folios 10 recto, 18 verso, and 19 recto (D17381, D17395, and D17396) as those which directly influenced the finished composition.2
Finberg elaborates this drawing with a narrative of Turner’s process of composition. He describes earlier sketches in the book as direct records of topographic features, which here begin to morph into a group with ‘systematic unity’.3 Speaking of this prospect specifically, he expresses that, ‘the exact position of the mast of the foreground vessel is the dominant factor, – the way it unites the lines described by the silhouette of the castle and the trees sloping down to the bridge, bringing the curves to a focus, as it were, and providing a rigid base for them to spring from again’.4 In spite of this shift towards the poetic amalgamation of concrete elements, Finberg recollects that he has never discovered a drawing in Turner’s sketchbooks which was not changed in some way before it was committed to watercolour.5 Indeed, Warrell notes that although some of these preparatory sketches stretch to 380 mm wide, the watercolour contracts the view into a much smaller space, measuring some 200 mm.6
Turner may have nurtured a nostalgic relationship with Rochester. 7 It supplied the subject for one of his earliest oil paintings, which observed fishing boats below the castle (Tate impressions: T05881–T05882).8 The city and its position on the Medway are certainly given a significant degree of attention in this sketchbook. Finberg articulates that, ‘before Turner shut up his book he had made over a dozen skeleton designs [of Rochester], which he had only to clothe in colour and light and shade to develop into beautiful pictures’.9 For further studies within these pages, see folios 7 recto, 10 recto, 17 verso, 18 verso, 19 recto, 20 recto and verso, 21 recto, 23 recto, 27 verso, 28 recto, 47 verso, 59 recto, and 90 recto (D17376, D17381, D17393, D17395–D17396, D17398–D17400, D17404, D17410–D17411, D17446, D17462, D17506). Also see the Folkestone sketchbook in this section, of about 1821–2, particularly the entry for folio 6 verso (Tate D17217; Turner Bequest CXCVIII 6a).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.385 no.735, reproduced.
Warrell 1991, p.31.
Finberg 1910, p.108.
Ibid., pp.108–9.
Ibid., p.109.
Warrell, p.31.
David Blayney Brown and Kenneth Reedie, Turner and Kent, Canterbury 2001, p.3–4.
Warrell 1991, p.31 under no.11.
Finberg 1910, p.109.
Wilton 1979, p.313 no.129, reproduced.

Maud Whatley
January 2016

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