Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Botolph’s Church, Boston, from the River Witham


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 299 x 494 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 21

Display caption

Throughout his career Turner made preliminary colour studies as part of the process of developing more finished designs, but this practice was particularly common during the 1820s and 1830s when he was at work on the England and Wales watercolours. This study seems to have acted as an intermediate stage between Turner's upright view of Boston in the 'North of England' sketchbook, and the England and Wales watercolour (now at McMaster University in Canada), where the distinctive tower of St Botolph's church is set in a wider landscape.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The exceptionally tall tower of St Botolph’s Church (the ‘Boston Stump’, at some 82 metres or 272 feet) is seen from the south across the River Witham. Ian Warrell and David Hill have confirmed Finberg’s tentative Boston identification,1 noting the relationship of this colour study to Turner’s pencil drawing in the 1797 North of England sketchbook (Tate D00993; Turner Bequest XXXIV 82); the subsequent finished watercolour Boston, Lincolnshire of about 1833–4 (McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario)2 was engraved in 1835 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T06115).
The shipping in rough silhouette on the right features in the original drawing and the finished design. Eric Shanes describes the present study as among those ‘created simply to make a scene leap imaginatively and colourfully from a sketchbook page’.3
Michael Spender noted C.F. Bell’s identification of the subject4 as St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, near ‘the junction of the Avon with the Floating Harbour;5 the work was exhibited as such between 1934 and 1965 but the identification is demonstrably incorrect, despite Turner’s drawings of the church and its then truncated spire: see the South Wales and Swans sketchbooks (Tate D00661, D01702, D01703; Turner Bequest XXVI 99, XLII 27–28).
See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Warrell 1993, p.304, and 1994, p.198; Hill 1996, pp.172, 192; see also Shanes 1997, p.95.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.400 no.859, reproduced.
Shanes 1997, p.27.
MS note in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, II, p.816.
Michael Spender in Spender and Malcolm Fry, Turner at the Bankside Gallery: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Drawings & Water-colours of British River Scenes from the British Museum, exhibition catalogue, Bankside Gallery, London 1980, p.160.
Technical notes:
There is a horizontal fold across the whole sheet, about 20 mm below the top edge.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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