Joseph Mallord William Turner

Town Beside a River

1831

Not on display
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 104 x 163 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27191
Turner Bequest CCLXXVII 122

Catalogue entry

This quick sketch depicts a street with a tower at the left, and what are probably the masts of boats to the right. The sun’s orb is shown low in the sky at the centre of the sketch, the effect of which casts the tower and what may be two figures at the right into silhouette. Gerald Wilkinson in 1975 labelled the sketch as Elgin Cathedral,1 an identification that David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan have disagreed with.2 Wallace-Hadrill and Carolan have not managed to provide a firm identification, and Carolan’s suggestion that Turner’s inscription reads ‘Meldrum’,3 a reference to the town Oldmeldrum near Aberdeen, is unlikely as it seems to say ‘Blue cloud’.
A slim possibility is St Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen. The cathedral, now a High Kirk, has two steeples, but if it is viewed from the south only one would be seen. This suggestion, however, does not satisfactorily account for the vertical lines to the right which in Turner’s sketches usually represent the masts of boats, as despite there being a river to the north, the River Don is not navigable in a large boat. The low position of the sun in the sky also suggests that the view is looking east or west, rather than north. The identification of the sketch therefore remains uncertain. The tower resembles another sketch on folio 138 verso (D27214).
1
Wilkinson 1975, p.70.
2
David Wallace-Hadrill and Janet Carolan, ‘CCLXXVII Inverness Checklist’, [circa 1991], Tate catalogue files, [unpaginated].
3
Ibid.
Verso:
Blank

Thomas Ardill
May 2010

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