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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Church Spire, Possibly at Petworth, Grantham or Newark c.1828-30

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Church Spire, Possibly at Petworth, Grantham or Newark c.1828–30
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 304
Watercolour on white wove paper, 308 x 487 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘[... ?Album]’ bottom right, ascending vertically
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 304’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This colour study of a slender spire against a wide blue sky is of the type Turner made in preparation for the watercolour compositions of his Picturesque Views in England and Wales. Cook and Wedderburn record John Ruskin’s MS note of 1880 concerning the identification of the view: ‘Grantham–nearly sure’1 – a reference to St Wulfram’ Church, Grantham, Lincolnshire, which Turner had drawn in 1797 in the North of England sketchbook (Tate D00995; Turner Bequest XXXIV 84), and there is a watercolour of a different aspect, the North-East View of Grantham Church, Lincolnshire, of a little earlier (its engraving being dated 1 March 1797), based on a sketch by R.B. Schnebbelie (Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven).2 The profile of the tower and spire is comparable and Finberg tentatively offered the same identification.
Werner Hofmann’s suggestion that the present work relates to the watercolour Salisbury, from the South, c.1828 (Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),3 engraved in 1830 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impression: T04586),4 has been dismissed by Andrew Wilton as ‘the two buildings seem wholly different both in shape and proportion’.5 Wilton subsequently proposed ‘Grantham or Newark’ as possible subjects.6 St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Newark, Nottinghamshire, was the subject of a watercolour of about 1794 (private collection);7 there is also a 1794 pencil sketch showing the spire in the distance (Tate D00360; Tuner Bequest XXII G).
In relation to England and Wales compositions, Eric Shanes has given the Grantham church8 and Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex,9 as potential subjects. Chichester seems unlikely, as the section of the tower rising above the high roofline at its crossing forms a relatively shallow cube compared with the triple cube proportion of the tower in the present study. For a more likely Chichester ‘colour beginning’, see Tate D25204 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 82).
Ian Warrell makes a persuasive case for the spire being that of St Mary’s Church, Petworth, West Sussex, adjacent to Petworth House, the home of Turner’s patron Lord Egremont. he compares it with an 1827 pencil sketch, looking west from rolling countryside to the church, with its newly built steeple, beside the house on the horizon, in the Petworth sketchbook (Tate D22577; Turner Bequest CCXLIII 1), and a gouache on blue paper study of a similar view from the same year (Tate D22667; Turner Bequest CCXLIV 5), with ‘a cluster of peaks to the right resembling [Petworth House’s] chimneys’, possibly echoed in the strokes at the centre of the skyline of the present work10 (the spire has since been taken down).
With Petworth seemingly the most likely subject, Warrell’s dating of c.1828–30 has been followed here. Whatever the subject, Jeremy Robinson has considered the ‘church and landscape ... as reflectors of light merely, as atmospheric effects’.11
See also the Introductions to the present subsection of tentatively identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.624.
Wilton 1979, p.325 no.232.
Ibid., p.398 no.836, reproduced.
Hofmann 1976, p.140.
Wilton 1979, p.398.
Wilton 1987a, p.118; Newark alone is given as the subject in Wilton 2001, p.346, without further discussion.
Not in Wilton 1979.
Shanes 1997, pp.27, 94, 96, 106.
Ibid., pp.94, 106.
Warrell 1998, p.133.
Robinson 1989, p.48.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Church Spire, Possibly at Petworth, Grantham or Newark c.1828–30 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-church-spire-possibly-at-petworth-grantham-or-newark-r1144354, accessed 25 May 2024.