Joseph Mallord William Turner

St Michael’s Mount: St Michael’s Chair and Mount’s Bay


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 166 × 208 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXV 45 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s thorough investigation of St Michael’s Mount evidently extended to ascending its central church tower to gain the spectacular view of Mount’s Bay from the roof. In the distance beyond the south-west corner of the tower is the coast on the Mousehole side of the bay. The sky is filled with scudding clouds, apparently with a shaft of sunlight breaking through from the top right.
St Michael’s Chair, the stone structure on the tower, is ‘a five-sided beacon with transom and basin-shaped floor’.1 Its ‘H’ silhouette is visible in the views of the tower from below on folios 37 verso and 38 verso (D08919, D08921; CXXV 36a, 37a). Turner appears to have written of the feature and the tremendous view from it in his verses in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08619; Turner Bequest CXXIII 132a). He may have recalled the experience when he produced the watercolour vignette The Death of Lycidas – ‘Vision of the Guarded Mount’ (Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati), engraved in 1835 for Milton’s Poetical Works,2 showing the Archangel Michael silhouetted above the distant tower.
For other views of the site, see under folio 32 recto (D08910; CXXV 31).
Nikolaus Pevsner, Cornwall, The Buildings of England, 2nd ed., revised by Enid Radcliffe, Harmondsworth 1970, p.195.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.451 no.1269, reproduced.
Technical notes:
There is some brown spotting.

Matthew Imms
February 2011

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