Joseph Mallord William Turner

Scene in a Church or Vaulted Hall


Image released under

License this image

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 749 × 991 mm
frame: 876 × 1119 × 80 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

249. [N05492] Scene in a Church or Vaulted Hall c. 1820–30


Canvas, 29 1/2 × 39 (75 × 99)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (137, I unidentified 3'3 3/4" × 2'5 1/2"; identified by chalk number on back); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Exh. Tate Gallery 1977 (17, repr.).

Lit. Davies 1946, pp. 160, 188.

In style and general composition this picture has something in common with the two paintings of George IV on his state visit to Edinburgh in 1822 (Nos. 247 [N02857] and 248 [N02858]). The composition is not particularly close to the scene in St Giles (No. 247 [N02857]) but bears some resemblance to one of the tiny composition sketches in the ‘King at Edinburgh’ sketchbook, that numbered ‘12’ and identified by Gerald Finley as possibly depicting the removal of the Regalia from the Throne Room in Holyrood Palace on 24 August (CCI-44 verso and back cover; Finley 1975, p. 32, repr. p. 29 fig. 18). Here, however, the effect is less of an arcaded background than of a Gothic vault.

Gerald Finley cannot, however, confirm a connection with the George IV project, and it is probably best at the moment to accept the more general identification of Martin Davies: ‘A scene in a Church (unfinished): A procession, apparently’; alternatively, as two static groups of figures appear to be shown, perhaps a baptism or wedding is depicted. As noted in the catalogue of the 1977 Tate Gallery exhibition, after the picture had been cleaned for the first time, one of the figures in the foreground is apparently holding a baby, which suggests that the subject may be a christening. If so, the ceremony must just have ended, as figures in the background can be seen bowing to the Church dignitaries (?) in their vestments, who are going out through the arch.

If, as now seems likely, the subject is not specifically related to the Royal visit to Edinburgh of 1822, the picture could be rather later, though it lacks the richness and Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro of the interiors associated with Petworth and East Cowes Castle, probably of the 1830s (Nos. 445–7 and 449).

There are some paint losses down the right-hand edge, particularly near the top; these have now been restored.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

You might like

In the shop