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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Castle on a Headland, Possibly Conway Castle c.1820-40

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Castle on a Headland, Possibly Conway Castle c.1820–40
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 148
Watercolour on white wove paper, 255 x 273 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram left of centre
Inscribed by ?John Ruskin in blue ink ‘1602’ bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘148’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCLXIV – 148’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Since 1995,1 this evocative twilight view has been identified as perhaps showing Conway (Conwy) Castle, overlooking the Menai Straits in North Wales. Compare the similar profile of a distant castle across water in strong light against grey cloud (Tate D25176; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 54), a ‘colour beginning’ perhaps connected with the Picturesque Views of England and Wales, under which Turner’s 1798 visit and subsequent watercolours are discussed. Andrew Wilton has mentioned the present work in connection with D25276, and also Tate D35993 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 149), which seems to represent a smaller structure on a headland at dusk,2 as well as suggesting that the ‘evidently Welsh’ subject here might also be Harlech (see under Tate D25232; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 110) or Criccieth (see under Tate D25174; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 52).3
Wilton observes that the ‘lower bands of blue, red and yellow in this one may in fact form a separate study of sunset sky and sea, intended to be read the other way up’, two or more ‘colour beginnings’ initially developed on one sheet being not being uncommon; while the ‘wiping-out technique in the castle itself suggests an early date, ... Turner evidently continued to employ this device, which is characteristic of his experimental watercolours of about 1799, until late in his career.’4 Wilton has proposed ‘some stylistic affinities’5 with Turner’s exploration of chiaroscuro effects in the ‘Little Liber’ (see the ‘Little Liber c.1823–6’ section of the present catalogue).
Given the uncertainties of subject and dating, a range covering the 1820s and 1830s has been applied here.
See Sketching the Sky, exhibition catalogue 1995, p.[7].
See Wilton 1974, p.96.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Castle on a Headland, Possibly Conway Castle c.1820–40 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-castle-on-a-headland-possibly-conway-castle-r1184474, accessed 20 April 2024.