Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Custom House, London, from the River Thames


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 353 × 488 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 100

Display caption

A proliferation of illustrated publications on London in the early 1820s seems to have encouraged Turner to execute his own watercolours for a London project instigated by W.B.Cooke. Four finished watercolours are known including one of the Custom House. This study also shows the Thames-side building which had been expanded on the river front in 1825 by Sir Robert Smirke, who was a friend of Turner.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Finberg correctly identified this as a view of the Custom House, which stood formerly on the north bank of the Thames overlooking the Pool of London below London Bridge, as confirmed by Ian Warrell and Eric Shanes;1 it is comparable with the watercolour The Custom House, London of about 1825 (Vancouver Art Gallery),2 engraved in 1827 (Tate impression: T06069). The finished watercolour has been posited as one of a short series of views of London, three of which were engraved,3 and shows the building on the right in sharply receding perspective.
Here, the colonnaded façade is shown in head-on elevation, and Shanes has suggested that this was an undeveloped variation of the subject for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.4 There is a pencil and wash study in the Scotland and London (formerly ‘Scotland and Venice’) sketchbook (Tate D13826; Turner Bequest CLXX 11) and a detailed pencil study in the Tabley No.3 sketchbook of about 1825 (Tate D07083; Turner Bequest CV 66a);5 both show the Monument and St Magnus the Martyr’s Church to the left. There are vertical strokes of darker wash against the sky here which may indicate these buildings. Another colour study, Tate D25294 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 172), may also show the Custom House, and Tate D25179 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 57) is possibly another Pool of London subject. Tate D25135 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 13), suggested by Shanes as a similar view,6 has since been positively identified as Angers, a French subject.
See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
See Warrell 1991, p.42; and Shanes 1997, pp.26, 96, 99, 105.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.358–9 no.516.
See Wilton 1979, pp.358–9 nos.513–516, Eric Shanes, ‘Turner’s “Unknown” London Series’, Turner Studies, vol.1, no.2, Winter 1981, pp.[36]–42, Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, pp.128–9, 271–2, and Warrell 1991, pp.41, 42.
Shanes 1997, pp.26, 96.
Both noted in Warrell 1991, p.42.
Shanes 1997, pp.26, 95, 99, 104.
Technical notes:
A small hole to the left of centre has been repaired from the verso. Prominent creasing from the bottom edge towards the right may be a production fault in the sheet.
Blank, save for inscriptions: in pencil by ?Turner ‘30’ right of centre; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCLXIII 100’ bottom left; in pencil ‘[?AB 93 P]’ bottom right; and in pencil ‘CCLXIII 100’ bottom right. The ‘AB’ number corresponds with the endorsement on one of the parcels of works sorted by John Ruskin during his survey of the Turner Bequest, in this case classified by him as ‘Colour effects. finer’.1

Matthew Imms
March 2013

See Warrell 1991, p.41 under no.29.

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