Joseph Mallord William Turner

Windsor Castle from the Thames


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 910 × 1220 mm
frame: 1280 × 1580 × 168 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

149. [T03870] Windsor Castle from the Thames c. 1805

Canvas, 35 3/4 × 48 (91 × 122)
Signed ‘I M W Turner RA ISLEWORTH’ lower right

Coll. Bought from Turner by the third Earl of Egremont; by descent to the third Lord Leconfield, who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. S.B.A. 1834 (15 lent by Lord Egremont); Tate Gallery 1951 (1); Brussels 1973 (6); R.A. 1974–5 (80); Paris 1983–4 (16, repr.).

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (North gallery); Waagen 1854, iii, p. 39; Thornbury 1877, p. 199(?); Armstrong 1902, p. 237, where it is dated c. 1808; Collins Baker 1920, p. 123 no. 4; Finberg 1961, pp. 192, 196, 350, 475 no. 181, 199 no. 454; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 19, pl. 26; Lindsay 1966, p. 107; Herrmann 1975, pp. 15, 228, pl. 45; Joll 1977, pp. 175–6; Ziff 1980, p. 169.

There is a watercolour study for this picture on p. 29 verso of the ‘Studies for Pictures; Isleworth’ sketchbook (XC; repr. by Herrmann pl. 46 and in colour by Wilkinson, 1974, p. 108). A slight pencil sketch on p. 2 of the ‘Windsor and Eton’ sketchbook (XCVII) is also possibly connected.

There is also a drawing CXVIII-e, catalogued by Finberg simply as ‘Sketch for Liber Studiorum subject’, which, despite one or two minor architectural peculiarities, seems certainly to depict Windsor, and the group of figures and sheep in the foreground on the right are closely connected with the oil. In the drawing a flagstaff is visible on the turret in the centre and the Round Tower can be clearly seen whereas in the picture it is obscured by trees.

The questions of when the picture was painted and when it was acquired by Lord Egremont are still unresolved but Finberg's suggestion that this picture was exhibited at Turner's gallery in 1813 is unsupported by any evidence. Finberg's theory rested on his belief that the ‘Studies for Pictures; Isleworth’ sketchbook, containing the watercolour study for the oil, dates from 1811–12. On the inside cover of the book is written:

J.M.W. Turner
Sion Ferry House

and Finberg suggests that Turner moved there when he left Hammersmith in 1811 while he was waiting for Solus Lodge, Twickenham, to be got ready. While it is true that this sketchbook contains drawings connected with pictures such as Mercury and Herse (No. 114, R.A. 1811) and Dido and Æneas (No. 129, R.A. 1814), it also has details of bank notes in use in 1804, which implies that the sketchbook, like many others, was in use over a number of years.

Rothenstein and Butlin date this picture c. 1805 and see in it a sign of Turner's early interest in a more classical form of composition, based ‘mainly on forms lying parallel to the picture surface’, and they cite a number of points of similarity with The Garden of the Hesperides (No. 57, exh. 1806). There is also an echo of Gaspard Poussin and another close parallel in Turner's own work is to be found in the Narcissus and Echo of 1804 (No. 53 [T03869]), also at Petworth. On stylistic grounds, therefore, there seems to be a strong case for accepting a date of c. 1805.

The dating proposed by Rothenstein and Butlin has received strong support from Patrick Youngblood's discovery that Turner was first rated for Sion Ferry House on 23 May 1805, thus six months earlier than his letter, written from the house, to Colt Hoare which has hitherto been the first proof of his occupancy (Youngblood 1982, p. 34 n.9).

Therefore there seems no reason why the most obvious explanation should not be correct: that Turner painted, signed and sold the picture all in about 1805 or 1806. The unusual form of signature implies that Turner was living at Isleworth when he signed it at the time that Lord Egremont bought the picture. There is also a possibility that Turner exhibited it at his own gallery in 1805 or 1806. Certainly the evidence for a dating at about this time now seems overwhelming.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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