Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Castle above the Meadows


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, pen and ink, and watercolour on paper
Support: 184 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI K

Display caption

In his Liber Studiorum, Turner classified
his different treatments of landscape.
This subject was categorised ‘EP’, which probably meant ‘Elevated Pastoral’. The piper piping his tune suggests Turner wanted to capture the ideal Arcadian landscape of ancient Greece.

Blake did the same, but evoking the countryside of ancient Italy, in the illustrations to Thornton's Virgil shown
on the wall to the right. Through the words of Jerusalem Blake creates a comparable visionary ‘Elevated’ landscape for Albion and it inhabitants.  

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
The 1808 Liber Studiorum print derived from this drawing was untitled, but the subject was described as Okehampton Castle, Devon, in the pioneering 1872 Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition catalogue compiled by Taylor and Vaughan;1 this was questioned by Rawlinson in his 1878 Liber catalogue, where he established the customary, generic title.2 Indeed, Turner did not visit Okehampton until several years later and his watercolours for The Rivers of England (Tate D18138; Turner Bequest CCVIII E)3 and Picturesque Views in England and Wales (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)4 were not engraved until 1825 and 1828 respectively; however, their fundamental elements – a castle on a hill dominating rustic activities in the foreground – are similar, and it is possible that he had the Liber design at the back of his mind when he came to develop these later compositions.
The composition has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.81 (Pastoral Landscape).5 Gillian Forrester has suggested a specific literary source for the boy with his flute in the present work: the ‘Januarye’ eclogue of the Shepheardes Calendar (1579) by Edmund Spenser (circa 1552–1599). Although its protagonist, Colin Clout, is tending sheep rather than cattle, this pastoral vision was known to Turner, who used the character’s name in his own verses around this time.6 Although the setting may be imaginary, the cattle in the foreground are perhaps based on Turner’s sketches; in particular, the cow descending to the left is similar to one of a group in a pencil and watercolour study of about 1801 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Ruskin School Collection),7 and to a watercolour of a single animal in the Cows sketchbook (Tate D03726; Turner Bequest LXII 6).
The composition is recorded, as ‘2[:] 2 EP Castle’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)8 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.9 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Castle’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).10 Its inclusion in this category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction) lends weight to the view that the scene is imaginary.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.20 no.8.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.22–3 no.8.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.385 no.738, reproduced.
Ibid., p.393 no.802, reproduced.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.81; from 1644 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–87: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, pp.103–4, reproduced pl.81).
Forrester 1996, pp.28, 38 note 28 (citing transcriptions in Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, pp.152, 157), p.55.
Wilton 1979, p.346 no.409, reproduced; Luke Herrmann, Ruskin and Turner: A Study of Ruskin as a Collector of Turner, Based on his Gifts to the University of Oxford; Incorporating a Catalogue Raisonné of the Turner Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, London 1968, p.91 no.71, pl.XIII.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg 1924, pp.25–44.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.303 no.517, pl.519 (colour).
Forrester 1996, p.55 note 4.
Ibid., p.54 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Ibid.; Forrester 1996, p.11.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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