Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Northampton Election, 6 December 1830


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour, gouache and ink on paper
Support: 292 × 438 mm
frame: 570 × 700 × 45 mm
Purchased 2007


All Saint’s Church, Northampton, serves as the backdrop to the unopposed re-election of Lord Althorp as county Member of Parliament for Northamptonshire in December 1830. John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp (1782-1845) was the son of Earl Spencer, and later succeeded to his father’s title. He had been a Whig MP since 1806, with increasingly progressive sympathies; his appointment to Lord Grey’s new government necessitated standing again for his House of Commons seat. Althorp became closely involved with the Great Reform Act, passed in 1832 to resolve some major inequities in the British parliamentary system, and with the 1833 abolition of slavery in the British Empire.

Turner’s depiction of the triumphal procession was probably based on contemporary newspaper reports, but rather than being shown in a carriage, Althorp is here carried on a chair – perhaps as an echo of Chairing the Members, one of William Hogarth’s 1754-5 Election paintings owned by Turner’s friend John Soane (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London). Turner’s political allegiances are not clear-cut, but works such as The Northampton Election, and his friendship with his late Yorkshire patron Walter Fawkes, himself a radical Whig MP, suggest sympathy for Althorp. Turner may have intended the woman in French costume at the far left as a reminder of the violent July Revolution in Paris a few months earlier; the wording of the banners carried by the crowd is both less ambiguous and more optimistic for Britain’s future.

Turner had drawn the church on two occasions. In 1794 he recorded its partially-obscured west front in the Matlock sketchbook (Tate D00218; Turner Bequest XIX 12); an engraving of the composition was published in 1796 (Tate T05917). He happened to have passed through the town again while revisiting the Midlands in the late summer of 1830, drawing the church in the Birmingham and Coventry sketchbook (Tate D22352, D22353; Turner Bequest CCXL 17a-18). This time he included more of the west front, but barely indicated the statue of Charles II which still stands above the portico, and omitted it altogether from the watercolour; various other inaccuracies reflect the sketchiness of his source material.

Turner devoted much work from the mid 1820s to the late 1830s to producing watercolour designs for his important print project Picturesque Views in England and Wales, commissioned by Charles Heath, who owned the Northampton watercolour at the time of an exhibition relating to the series in 1833. However, it was never engraved, probably because its subject was so explicitly political compared to the subtler way Turner introduced allusions to contemporary and historical events in other England and Wales compositions. The same reservations may have prevented The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, made soon after Turner witnessed the fire in 1834, being included (Tate D36235; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV a 373), although a view of Nottingham engraved for the series appears to include hopeful symbolism relating to the passing of the 1832 Reform Act.

One watercolour actually engraved for England and Wales is in the Tate Collection (N05236); it shows Aldeburgh and was published as Aldborough, Suffolk in 1827. Merton College, Oxford of about 1835-8, was probably intended as a late addition to the series, but remained in Turner’s studio (Tate D25472; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 349).

Matthew Imms
April 2007

Further reading:
Eric Shanes, Turner’s England 1810-38, London 1990, pp.222-3 no.190, reproduced p.222
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Human Landscape, London 1990, pp.[325], 375 note 39, pl.220

James Hamilton, Turner’s Britain, exhibition catalogue, Gas Hall, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery 2003, pp.161-2, pl.135

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Catalogue entry

Charles Heath by 1833 when included in Moon, Boys and Graves exhibition
Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar by 1862
Henry Alexander Munro-Butler-Johnstone, sold Christie’s, London, 2 June 1877 (38), £220 10s
Bought by White
R.D. Holland, offered at Christie’s, London, 17 December 1937 (57), unsold
Mrs Young, by whom sold to Spink and Son, London, 1947
Private collection, UK
Private collection, USA
On loan to the Indiana Art Museum, Bloomington 2003
All Saint’s Church, Northampton, is shown as the backdrop to the unopposed re-election of Lord Althorp as a county Member of Parliament for Northamptonshire on 6 December 1830. Eric Shanes was the first to identify the specific event,1 although it had long been recognised as an election,2 and subsequent commentators have largely followed Shanes as the basis of their references to the subject.3
John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp (1782–1845) was the son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, and succeeded to his father’s title as 3rd Earl in 1834. He had been a Whig MP since 1806, with increasingly progressive sympathies. His appointment to Lord Grey’s new government, in which he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, necessitated standing again for his House of Commons seat. Althorp became closely involved with the Great Reform Act, passed in 1832 to resolve some of the major inequities in the British parliamentary system, and with the 1833 abolition of slavery in the British Empire.4 A later account notes how in December 1830 Althorp ‘made a triumphal entry into Northampton with his carriage hauled by supporters’, with ‘laurel wreaths’ and ‘crimson and white cockades’; he later travelled ‘in an ornate triumphal car emblazoned with the motto “Not for himself, but his country”’, with ‘banners with such mottoes as “Reform, Peace, Retrenchment”, [and] “The Friend of the People”’, before a banquet at the George Inn.5

Apart from ‘THE G[...]’ on the façade of the building at the far right (representing the George), there are extensive inscriptions on the flags and banners cascading down from the top left to the foreground:
The current entry was developed from an April 2007 online Tate short text by the present author (marking Tate’s acquisition of the work), indebted in many particulars to research and interpretations presented by Shanes in various contexts. See Shanes 1979, pp.38–9; 1990a, pp.222–3; 1990b, pp.[325], 375 note 39; 2004, p.142; and 2007, pp.6–7.
See Thornbury 1862, II, p.396, Thornbury 1897, p.593, Graves III 1921, p.232, and Finberg 1961, p.342.
See Wilton 1979, p.403; Lindsay 1985, pp.121, 153; Gage 1987, p.214; Wilton 1987, p.[190]; Helsinger 1994, pp.120 note 1, 122 note 16, 124 note 27; Bailey 1997, p.220; Finley 1999, p.183 (albeit confusing the identity of Althorp in the composition); Smiles 2000, p.58; Hamilton 2003, pp.25, 152, 161–2; Venning 2003, p.211; Wilton 2006, p.170; Brown 2007, pp.8, 14; and Warrell 2007, p.126.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; Ellis Archer Wasson, ‘Spencer, John Charles, Viscount Althorp and third Earl Spencer (1782–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 August 2013,; and ‘SPENCER, see John Charles, John Charles, Visct. Althorp (1782–1845), of Wiseton Hall, nr. East Retford, Notts.’, The History of Parliament, accessed 19 August 2013,
Eric G. Forrester, Northamptonshire County Elections and Electioneering 1695–1832, Oxford 1941, p.128, as quoted in Shanes 1979, p.38 and Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Shanes 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.6.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.223; and 2004, p.142; see also Gage 1987, p.234.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.223; and 2004, p.142.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; and 1990a, p.223.
Shanes 1979, p.[39].
See Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Ibid.; Shanes 1990b, p.[325]; 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.7.
Shanes 1990b, p.375 note 53.
Venning 2003, p.216.
See James Hamilton, ‘Fawkes, Walter Ramsden (1779–1825)’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.103–5.
See Gage 1987, pp.212–14, and Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.99–100.
See under Wilton 1979, p.367 nos.582 and 583, reproduced; and Hamilton 2003, pp.169–72, pls.143–7 (colour).
Hamilton 2003, pl.145 (colour).
See also Bailey 1997, pp.220–1.
See Shanes 1979, pp.38–[9], 1990a, p.223, and 2007, pp.6–7.
Hamilton 2003, pp.160–1, 162.
Shanes 1979, p.[39].
Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Wilton 1979, p.312 no.118.
See Shanes 1979, pp.38, 156; 2004, p.142; and 2007 p.7.
See Nikolaus Pevsner, Northamptonshire, The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1961, pp.308–9.
Wilton 1979, p.359 no.521, reproduced.
Shanes 1979, p.38.
See Luke Herrmann, ‘Heath, James (1757–1834) and Charles (1785–1848)’ in Joll, Butlin and Herrmann 2001, p.137.
A Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Expressly Made for his Work, Now in Course of Publication, of Views in England and Wales: And also for Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: Now Privately Exhibiting at Moon, Boys and Graves’, 6 Pall Mall, exhibition catalogue, Moon, Boys and Graves, London 1833, no.55, as ‘Northampton, Northamptonshire’, noting Heath as the lender, as transcribed in Shanes 1979, p.157; see also Finberg 1961, p.342; Shanes 1979, pp.14, 38; Shanes 1990a, p.222; and Brown 2007, p.15.
Shanes 1979, p.38 and subsequent texts.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.222; 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.6; also Hamilton 2003, pp.152, 161, and Brown 2007, p.8.
See the commentaries in Shanes 1979 and 1990, and Helsinger 1994, pp.103–25 on the social and political aspects of the series in general.
Shanes 1979, p.18.
Wilton 1979, p.359 no.522, reproduced.
Ibid., p.399 no.850, reproduced.
See Shanes 1979, p.[41], and 1990a, pp.228–9.
Wilton 1979, p.392 no.795, reproduced.
Ibid., p.404 no.887, pl.201.
Ibid., p.403.
See also Finberg 1961, p.498 no.442.
See also ‘Water-Colour Drawings by Turner in Possession of H.A. [sic] Munro, Esq., of Hamilton-Place, Piccadilly’ in Thornbury 1862, II, p.396, as ‘Northampton – Election-time’ and the equivalent listing in Thornbury 1897, p.593.
For uncle and nephew see Charles Sebag-Montefiore, ‘Munro of Novar, Hugh Andrew Johnstone (1797–1864)’ in Joll, Butlin and Herrmann 2001, pp.194–5.
Graves III 1921, p.232.
Shanes 1979, p.101, and 1990a, p.223.
Hamilton 2003, p.161.
Shanes 1990b, p.[325].
See Turner Society News, no.106, August 2007, p.2; and Shanes in ibid., p.7.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

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