Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of Norham Castle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 185 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVII 59 a

Catalogue entry

Finberg was the first to identify these three sketches as studies of Norham Castle on the River Tweed.1 The fact that Turner sketched the castle in 1831 corroborates (to some extent) Walter Thornbury’s anecdote that as the artist and Robert Cadell passed the castle:
Turner took off his hat and made a low bow to the ruins upon observing which Cadell said, ‘What the devil are you about now’ ‘Oh’ replied Turner ‘I made a drawing or painting of Norham several years since it took and from that day to this I have had as much to do as my hands could execute’2
Better evidence and more information about these sketches is provided by Robert Cadell’s own diary, which Gerald Finley has linked to the present sketch and another on folio 58 (D26028; CCLXVII 60).3 The artist and publisher passed the castle on 10 August 1831 as they took the stage coach from Kelso to ‘Berwick by Coldstream & Cornhill’, where they ‘saw Norham at the distance of two miles as we passed’.4 This must have been the point at which they first saw the castle, as the road to Berwick would have brought them within a mile of it and Turner is likely to have got closer to make these sketches.
With the sketchbook turned to the right are three sketches. The top and middle sketches are from the west (see also folio 58). This is the direction from which the castle is seen in several previous works: Norham Castle, Sunrise, 1798 (watercolour, Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford);5 the Liber Studiorum design, Norham Castle on the Tweed circa 1806–7, (watercolour, Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D); and in the Rivers of England design, Norham Castle on the Tweed 1824 (engraving, Tate T04799). At the bottom of the page is a small sketch of the castle seen from the east. The sequence of sketches from west to east therefore follows the coach’s route as it went past the castle on the way to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Norham had been discussed as a possible subject to illustrate Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works, but by the time Turner made these sketches it was no longer being considered.6 Therefore this fact and the lack of detail in the sketches imply that Turner made the sketches, as Finley suggests, as ‘a reflex action, since he considered the castle as a kind of personal touch-stone.’7 However, Norham was illustrated in 1834 for Scott’s Prose WorksNorham Castle – Moonrise circa 1833 (private collection) –8 although Butlin and Joll’s suggestion that the present page formed the basis of the watercolour design for this engraving is unlikely, considering the similarity of the design to those for the Liber Studiorum and Rivers of England.9 But another writer’s comment that seeing the castle in 1831 ‘may well have rekindled Turner’s interest in the theme’ is more plausible.10

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Finberg 1909, II, p.859.
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians: A New Edition, Revised with 8 Coloured Illustrations after Turner’s Originals and 2 Woodcuts, London 1897, p.139.
Finley 1972, pp.367 note 54, 384 note 148; Finley 1980, pp.129, reproduced 130 pl.55 as ‘Norham Castle’.
Robert Cadell, ‘Abbotsford Diary’, Wednesday 10 August 1831, National Library of Scotland, MS Acc.5188, Box 1, folio 111; transcribed in Finley 1972, p.384.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.324–5 no.226.
Finley 1980, pp.240–1.
Ibid., p.129.
Wilton 1979, p.430 no.1099.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.302 under cat.512.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.126 cat.450.

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