Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Entrance to Corfe Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 170 × 209 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIV 17

Catalogue entry

Corfe Castle survived intact until it was systematically slighted in 1646 by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War.1 As Finberg notes, Turner followed the present drawing in his watercolour of about 1812 (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts),2 engraved in 1814 for the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England3 (see the concordance of the series in the 1811 tour introduction). In the watercolour he added women laying out washing to dry on the hillside and bridge, and a laundry basket on a wall in the left foreground, emphasising the castle’s state of peaceful, picturesque decay. As part of his long, descriptive poem on the West Country, he wrote in such terms in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook, used on the same tour (Tate D08468; Turner Bequest CXXIII 54a):
The ruins of Corfe [‘ruind’ inserted above] turrets stand
Between two lofty downs whose shelving side
The lesser mountain for his towers supplyed
Caused by two slender streams which here unite
But early times give [blank] of their might
The arched causeway . . [blank] towring keep
And [‘yet’ inserted above] deep foss scarce fed the strggling sheep
While overhanging walls and gateways nod
Proclaim the the [sic] power of force and times keen rod
The castle keep is seen to the north across the moat and the stone bridge to the gatehouse.4 Turner does not indicate the foreground where he stood to draw, level with the roadway of the bridge; it is now the walled garden of the National Trust tea rooms, immediately beside the passage leading from the Square to the bridge.
Turner entered the Isle of Purbeck southwards from Poole Harbour – see the distant views of Corfe Castle in the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook (Tate D08387, D08391; Turner Bequest CXXIII 14, 16). He seems to have had two campaigns at Corfe, on his way to and from Swanage, effectively at a dead end on the coast to the south-east (folios 12 recto–15 verso; D08818–D08822). His first views were mostly from around the periphery of the village: folios 1 recto, 1 verso, 2 recto, 3 recto, 4 recto, 5 recto, 6 recto, 7 recto and 8 recto (D08807–D08815), together with 9 recto (Turner Bequest CXXV 49, bound and stamped as CXXIV 9; D08940), and the related sketch of Poole Harbour on folio 10 recto (D08817). The view on folio 6 (D08813) seems unfinished and was reworked on a larger scale in the Somerset and North Devon sketchbook (Tate D08954; Turner Bequest CXXVI 8), presumably during the first visit.
See brief historical notes in Hanley 1992, p.22.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.351 no.450.
Finberg 1909, I, p.354; see also Wilton 1979, p.351; Shanes 1981, p.152; Shanes 1990, pp.45 under no.22, 283 note 22, in error as CXXIV ‘p.102’; and Hanley 1992, p.22.
See modern photograph in Hanley 1992, p.22 ‘Cat.13’.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.305 no.42, reproduced.
Impression with Grosvenor Prints, London, 2010, dated circa 1780.

Matthew Imms
February 2011

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