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
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 310 × 492 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 172

Catalogue entry

Finberg suggested this colour study 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, and Eric Shanes has tentatively accepted this identification;1 it is loosely 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 façade is shown in head-on elevation on the left, 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. Assuming the Custom House identification is correct in the present case, the building is shown on the left, with dark verticals and a pale area against the sky downstream to the right perhaps respectively suggesting City churches and the Tower of London. Another colour study, Tate D25222 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 100), does 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.
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:
Pencil work is restricted to the bottom right, where vertical features with rounded elements may be bollards or part of a waterfront structure.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop