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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Crichton Castle 1818-19

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 5 Recto:
Crichton Castle 1818–19
Turner Bequest CLXX 4
Watercolour and pencil with some lifting out on off-white wove paper, 177 x 256 mm
Faint pink remains of John Ruskin’s red ink inscription bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CLXX – 4’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This watercolour was made in preparation for Turner’s Crichton Castle, circa 1818 (The Morgan Library and Museum, New York),1 which was engraved for Walter Scott’s Provincial Antiquities.2 The design was based on two sketches on a page of the Edinburgh sketchbook (1818) (Tate D13559; Turner Bequest CLXVI 56), and on a thumbnail composition study in the Scotch Antiquities sketchbook (Tate D13722; Turner Bequest CLXVII 75), made during Turner’s tour of Scotland in October–November 1818. It seems likely that the finished watercolour, which was engraved for the second number of the Provincial Antiquities in August 1819, was finished shortly after Turner’s return from Scotland, 3 meaning that this study was completed around the end of 1818 or the very beginning of 1819. The composition is close to those sketches, except that Turner has made the hills appear higher to increase the drama and beauty of the scene. The view is from the south and looks down the valley through which the Tyne Water flows with the ruins of the castle perched on the east bank.
The sketch has been described as a ‘colour beginning’,4 although Finberg’s description of it as a ‘colour rough’ is perhaps more accurate, as it is a study rather than an unfinished picture.5 Its purpose was to lay out the colour structure of the design to help Turner work out the different areas of colour, tone, light and dark in his composition; an important consideration when a work is to be engraved. The castle and hill at the right are very faintly outlined in pencil, though the other hills and trees are not. At the bottom left is a serpentine line drawn in pencil representing a path, and there is a pencil scribble at the bottom of the sketch to the right of centre that may roughly indicate a seated figure with a standing figure to the right. It is at this point on the final design that there stands a shepherd. The rest of the picture is completed in watercolour with some areas being removed in the sky to lighten it.
John Gage began a debate about this picture with his comment that it was ‘the first work of Turner’s we have discovered to be wholly based on a structure of red, yellow and blue’, based on the as-yet unpublished colour theory of David Brewster.6 This, he argued, was an ‘important step in the direction of Turner’s later philosophy of colour.’7 Gerald Finley has taken issue with this suggestion, arguing that the use of primary colours in 1818 was due to artistic rather than optical theory.8 Andrew Wilton disagrees with both writers, arguing that ‘Turner certainly broke down the colour-components of his composition into elementary masses or blocks of colour, but he generally used secondary not primary colours for this purpose, adding primary colours locally afterwards.’9
Looking at the Crichton Castle study, however, it is clear in this case that the picture is structured by areas of both primary and secondary colours. The watered-down red of the foreground and castle, the yellow hillside at the right and the pure blue sky make up the primaries, while the green hillside at the left, where there are also areas of orange and the mauve or violet-grey shadow of the valley at the centre of the picture are all secondary colours.
Five of these six colours can be found on the opposite sketchbook page (folio 4 verso; D40886) where Turner painted daubs of blue, yellow and red that overlap or mix with each other wet on the paper to create green and violet. Thus a small yellow patch is painted over the top corner of the large blue blot to create a small area of green, and at the very top right corner of the page a streak of red is laid over a blue blot, making a dull violet. Hints of orange can be seen in the large yellow daub, but blue seems to have got mixed in here too, making dirty green the dominant colour. These mixtures seem to represent a deliberate test to see which colours Turner could make with a limited palette, rather than mere accidents created while Turner was removing excess paint from his brush. If the latter were the case, he would surely not have risked polluting the colour on his brush by wiping it on an area on paper already painted a different colour.
In the event, Turner’s Crichton Castle design did not closely follow the colour or tonal structure of this study. For example, the study’s mauve shadow in the valley is replaced in the design by a lighter area, and the lighter areas of sky are moved from the left to the right. The reason for this is that Turner changed the direction of the sun from west to east, changing the subject from evening to morning.
A related study know as Crichton Castle, with Rainbow, 1818, (Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art) may also once have belonged to this sketchbook.10 Like the study still in the sketchbook, it also contrasts brightly coloured areas with areas in shadow, with Turner again mixing blue and red washes to create mauve shadows.11 The dominant tones, however, are more subdued, perhaps indicating that Turner experimented with different effects in these two pictures. Another possibility is that the detached sheet, having been more exposed to light than the bound page, has changed in appearance.

Thomas Ardill
August 2009

Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.425 no.1059
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908 and 1913, vol.I, p.108 no.190
Thomson 1999, pp.29–30.
Gage 1969, p.31.
Finberg, I, p.493, CLXX 4.
Gage 1969, p.124.
Ibid., p.111.
Gerald Finley, ‘A “New Route” in 1822: Turner’s Colour and Optics’, in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.306, 1973, p.386.
Wilton 1979, p.172 note 28.
Wilton 1979, p.435 no.1143; Warrell 2007, p.103 under cats.61 and 62.
Warrell 2007, p.103.

How to cite

Thomas Ardill, ‘Crichton Castle 1818–19 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-crichton-castle-r1132303, accessed 29 July 2021.