Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sunset Study, Probably for ‘Flint Castle’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 274 × 375 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 143

Display caption

The sunset which emblazons the sky in this study relates to a watercolour of Flint Castle, on the north coast of Wales (private collection, Japan), which Turner may have intended to have had engraved for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales. As in many of his later pictures, the rays of the sun draw the viewer's eye outwards to the edge of the image, mirroring the effect of peripheral vision.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

The empty landscape of this ‘colour beginning’, with the sun low over a purple horizon and reflected in a watery foreground, appears to relate directly to the setting and effect in the finished watercolour known as Welsh Coast near Flint Castle, possibly of about 1830 or some years earlier (private collection),1 where the castle appears in silhouette to the right of the sun and the foreground is animated with boats, figures, horses, a buoy and an array of fish lying on the wet beach of the Dee Estuary at low tide.2
The composition is a loose variation on the theme of the watercolour Flint Castle, North Wales of about 1834–5 (National Museum Wales, Cardiff),3 engraved in 1836 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05873, T06121); Tate D36319 (CCCLXV 28) is possibly a study for it. Turner had known and depicted the castle since the 1790s; see under Tate D02013 (Turner Bequest XLVI 14) for other treatments.4
Here the direct focus on the low sun over water evokes Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), whom Turner greatly admired and often emulated;5 compare similar studies, not associated with particular compositions, in the ‘Sun and Clouds at Dawn and Sunset’ subsection of the present author’s ‘Colour Studies of the Sun, Skies and Clouds c.1815–45’ elsewhere in this catalogue.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.403–4 no.885, as ?c.1830, reproduced; but see Eric Shanes, Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales 1825–1838, London 1979, p.152 no.89 as simply ‘Flint Castle’, early 1820s, Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, p.247 under no.212, as 1820s, and Shanes 1997, p.15, also as 1820s; note that Shanes 1979, p.152, emphasises that it was ‘not made’ for the England and Wales scheme, while Shanes 1990, p.286 note 194, specifically rules out a connection, owing to ‘documentary evidence’.
The link seems to have first been published in the anonymous checklist of Sketching the Sky: Watercolours from the Turner Bequest, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995, p.[7], and an associated display caption (still part of the present work’s on-line entry at time of writing).
Wilton 1979, p.401 no.868, reproduced.
See also Shanes 1997, p.43.
See for example Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Blank; inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 144 P | O’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCLXIV – 143’ towards bottom right.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop