Joseph Mallord William Turner

Winchelsea, Sussex


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 182 × 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII Q

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and J.C. Easling, ‘Winchelsea, Sussex.’, published Turner, 23 April 1812
Winchelsea lies in East Sussex, a little inland between Hastings and Rye. In the middle ages the population had moved from the coastal flood plain to re-establish the town up the hill on a fortified grid pattern, though it was still subjected to raids by the French. It is at the western end of the Royal Military Canal, under construction between 1804 and 1809, and the Royal Military Road, major defences protecting the neighbouring Romney Marsh area of Kent from the threat of invasion by Napoleon. Turner focuses on the medieval fortifications of the town in this and its companion Liber Studiorum design, East Gate, Winchelsea (apparently the north gate, in fact – see entry for Tate D08167; Turner Bequest CXVIII M). Both compositions are based on tonal pencil and chalk drawings on prepared paper in the Sussex sketchbook of about 1804–6 (in this case, Tate D05762; Turner Bequest XCII 43), and Turner probably thought of them as a pair and may have produced them at about the same time.1 Martello Towers, near Bexhill, Sussex, showing a scene a few miles away, is another Liber composition alluding to the contemporary defence of the South Coast (for drawing see Tate D08138; Turner Bequest CXVII K).
Rawlinson observed a series of ‘sharp contrasts’ in the composition – ‘the steep hill ... against the perfectly level plain; the dark woods against the light gleam of the sky; the thick foliage on the left against the bare tree on the right; the soldier also contrasts with the shepherd, ... and his musket with the boy’s plaything, a kite.’2 Stopford Brooke described the relationship of this to Turner’s other Liber Winchelsea design: ‘In that drawing we see the gate itself and the tower, but in this we have passed through the gate and stand at the top of the hill leading downwards onto the plain. The same flock of sheep ... is seen here going down the hill.’3
Both Rawlinson and Brooke noted Turner’s repeated association of soldiers with Winchelsea;4 Ruskin had described the development5 from the two figures here, to two pairs of women and soldiers in the watercolour Winchelsea, Sussex, and the Military Canal of about 1817 (private collection),6 until a whole regiment is shown, with more women resting by the road, in Winchelsea, Sussex, Soldiers on the March, a watercolour design for Picturesque Views in England and Wales of circa 1828 (British Museum, London, 1958–7–12–429).7 Ruskin saw Turner’s ‘sympathy absolutely infinite’ in the depiction of the ‘soldier’s wife resting by the roadside’ in the present composition,8 while Eric Shanes has read the relationship of the figures to the pairs of living and dead trees as a symbolic portent of the soldier’s own reluctant death, reinforced by a parallel between soldiers and the flock in the distance: ‘like sheep they too must obey orders’.9
Forrester 1996, p.103.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.86–7.
Brooke 1885, p.[137].
Rawlinson 1878, p.87; Brooke 1885, p.[137].
Pre-Raphaelitism, in Cook and Wedderburn XII 1904, p.384; see also Shanes 1990, p.77.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.348 no.430; Eric Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London 1981, p.20 no.12, pl.12 (colour).
Wilton 1979, p.396 no.821, reproduced.
Cook and Wedderburn XII 1904, p.370.
Shanes 1990, pp.217–18.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.86–96; 1906, pp.101–13; Finberg 1924, pp.165–84.
Forrester 1996, p.103 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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