J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Chester sketchbook 1801

Turner Bequest LXXXII 1–77
Sketchbook bound in boards covered in marbled calf leather, gold–tooled at the edges and spine, with two broken brass clasps
77 leaves, 74 of white wove Whatman paper, with 1 front flyleaf and 2 back flyleaves of laid paper; page size 256 x 161 mm; watermark ‘1794’ (trimmed)
Inscribed by Turner in ink ‘Chester’ on front cover, centre right, descending vertically
Numbered 147 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854, and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest on folio 1 recto (D05073)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg suggested in his Inventory that this book was in use between 1801 and 1805,1 that is, roughly over the same period as the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXI); he later recognised that it could be dated more closely by reference to a commission in April 1801 for views of Chester for William Byrne’s Britannia Depicta, to which Turner responded by visiting that city on his return from Scotland and the Lake District in the same year. Two subjects engraved by Byrne, one a distant view, the other showing Chester Castle, eventually appeared in 1810 (Tate impressions: T05730, T05948); see under folios 51 recto and 52 recto (D05128, D05129). We also know that Turner was in Chester at that time on the evidence of a lost letter from him to the artist and diarist Joseph Farington (1747–1821), dated 20 August 1801.2
The visit to Chester was added to his already extensive tour to the Scottish Highlands, which began with a journey up the north–east coast of England, through Yorkshire and Northumberland to Edinburgh. The first drawings in this sketchbook, accordingly, are views in Yorkshire, including several notes of the ruins of Helmsley Castle, a building that Turner did not actually draw in his 1801 Helmsley sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LIII), the title of which is derived simply from his label indicating the route (Tate D40775), although it contains a copy by another hand of a Helmsley drawing in the present book; see folio 3 recto (D05076). As for the present Chester book, named from Turner’s ink inscription on the front cover, the paper spine label recorded by Finberg (which does not survive) also indicated Yorkshire locations: ‘36 Yorkshire. Pickering Scarbro’.3
Turner scholar C.F. Bell noted that ‘In spite of Turner’s label most of the subjects in this book seem to be wrongly named [by Finberg].’4 Of particular interest, perhaps, is the group of sketches of mountain scenery between Penrith and Windermere, folios 27 recto–33 recto (D05104–D05110), which seem to indicate that Turner made a considerable detour through the Lakeland hills, amplifying the information he had gathered in that region during his North of England tour in 1797; see the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest XXXV). The fact that he did not make more substantial drawings of this dramatic scenery may be explained by his anxiety to complete his commission in Chester without unduly extending an already lengthy tour.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.219.
John Gage, ‘Further Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner’, Turner Studies, vol.6, no.1, Summer 1986, p.2 letter 2a; see also letter 2b and note 4.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.219.
Undated MS notes by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.219.
Technical note:
The rectos of folios 3–49 (D05076–D05126) have been numbered (not by Turner) in pencil ‘1’–‘46’ in their top right corners; folios 14 recto and 15 recto (D05089, D05090) are both numbered ‘12’ in this way.
As Finberg noted, a leaf has been ‘cut out’ between folios 75 verso and 76 recto (D05155, D05156), leaving a neat stub. The correlation between the sketchbook’s Turner Bequest page numbers and its foliation is slightly disrupted at the very end. The verso of folio 76 is blank, as is the recto of folio 77, which does not have a Tate ‘D’ accession number; the verso of folio 77 is D05157 (Turner Bequest LXXXII 76a), opposite the inside of the back cover, unusually included in the numbered sequence as Turner Bequest LXXXII 77 (D05158).

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Revised by Matthew Imms
April 21015
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How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Chester sketchbook 1801’, sketchbook, May 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/chester-sketchbook-r1178638, accessed 23 January 2021.