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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?Conway Castle c.1830

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
?Conway Castle c.1830
D25176
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 54
Watercolour on white wove paper, 355 x 490 mm
Inscribed in red ink ‘54’ bottom right
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 54’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg proposed that this colour study showed Criccieth Castle, for which see (with varying degrees of certainty) the ‘colour beginnings’ Tate D25161, D25174, D25293 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 39, 52, 171), but Eric Shanes has suggested that it shows Conway Castle, and that it is an undeveloped subject for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.1
The town and castle of Conway, or Conwy, lie on the estuary of the River Conwy near the coast of North Wales. Three modern bridges now cross the river immediately below the castle to the right (assuming the current identification is correct). Turner made several studies in his 1798 Hereford Court sketchbook; as Shanes notes,2 Tate D01305 and D1306 (Turner Bequest XXXVIII 51 52) may have informed the present work, as they did the works Turner produced soon after his visit, including watercolours in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles3 and the Whitworth Art Gallery,4 and an oil painting of about 1803 (private collection);5 most show the castle against dramatic clouds, enlivened by shafts of sunlight, effects also loosely indicated in the present work.
Harlech Castle has also been suggested as the subject in connection with Tate D35992 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 148), 6 a smaller, square-format sheet which may represent the same scene under different conditions, but there are ‘colour beginnings’ which appear to relate more closely to Harlech as depicted for England and Wales (Tate D25232, D25240, D25289; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 110, 118, 167).
See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
1
Shanes 1997, pp.94, 95, 104.
2
Ibid., pp.94, 95.
3
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.329–30 no.270, reproduced.
4
Ibid., p.330 no.271, reproduced.
5
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.107–8 no.141, pl.146 (colour).
6
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.96; Shanes 1997, pp.94, 95 as possibly Conway by association with the present work.
Technical notes:
The composition is somewhat affected by staining a little way in from the right-hand and bottom edges. This has bled through from the verso, where it takes the form of the outline of a rectangle, 290 x 415 mm, set slightly askew, apparently of varnish or some other transparent medium offset from another sheet or the edges of a rectangular object, perhaps a frame or mount. Shanes has noted ‘spotting’ on this sheet which he describes in relation to other Turner colour studies as a likely ‘creative technique’ in the tradition of the ‘blot’ method employed by Alexander Cozens (1717–1786),1 although the effect here seems less deliberate and may be fortuitous, and possibly partly owing to the staining already described.
1
Shanes 1997, p.40; see also p.94.
Verso:
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘15’ centre right, upside inscribed in pencil ‘AB 92 P | O’ top left, upside down; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCLXIII – 54’ bottom left; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII. 54’ bottom right.
The ‘AB’ number corresponds with the endorsement on one of the parcels of works sorted by John Ruskin during his survey of the Turner Bequest, in this case classified by him as ‘Colour effects. Valueless’.1

Matthew Imms
March 2013

1
Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?Conway Castle c.1830 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-conway-castle-r1144307, accessed 24 January 2020.