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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory exhibited 1830

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory exhibited 1830
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 344
Watercolour and gouache on white wove paper, 560 x 766 mm, mounted on white wove paper 616 x 823 mm
Inscribed by the artist in brown watercolour ‘Funeral of Sir Thos Lawrence, PRA | Janr 21 1830 | SKETCH from MEMORY | IMWT’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII 344’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
One of Turner’s most prominent contemporary advocates was the artist, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830). The leading portraitist of the age, Lawrence was famed throughout Europe for his portraits of royalty, statesmen, military leaders and fashionable society, and his achievements brought him many honours including Principal Painter-in-Ordinary to the King, and also from 1820, President of the Royal Academy. Famously describing Turner as ‘indisputably the first landscape painter in Europe’,1 he not only owned some of the younger man’s paintings,2 but also supported his friend in other practical ways, such as helping to secure his only royal commission,3 and, in 1819, encouraging Turner to join him in Italy, writing to Joseph Farington: ‘Turner should come to Rome. His Genius would here be supplied with new Materials, and entirely congenial with it ... It is a fact, that the Country and scenes around me, do thus impress themselves upon me, and that Turner is always associated with them.’4 Following Turner’s arrival in Rome, Lawrence assisted him by introducing him to artistic society and facilitating his access to the Vatican and other artistic institutions.5 Turner was therefore greatly shocked by Lawrence’s sudden demise aged sixty-one on 7 January 1830, writing sorrowfully to fellow Academician Charles Lock Eastlake, ‘Do but think what a loss we and the arts have in the death of Sir Tho[ma]s Lawrence’.6 The news followed hard on the heels of other recent bereavements: that of Turner’s father in September 1829; another Academician, George Dawe in October; and finally, his close acquaintance, Harriet Wells, on 1 January 1830. In the wake of Lawrence’s funeral on 21 January, Turner poured his feelings of sadness and respect into this painted rendition of the event which he subtitled in an inscription ‘A sketch from memory’.
Lawrence’s funeral was a public occasion of great pomp and pageantry, unrivalled by any since that of Lord Nelson twenty-five years earlier. At the request of the Royal Academy the body was taken the night before the ceremony to Somerset House where it lay in repose in the model room, transformed by candles and black cloth hangings.7 The following day, at about 12.30pm, the velvet-draped coffin was transferred to a hearse and taken in solemn procession to St Paul’s Cathedral. Vast numbers of people gathered to witness the spectacle and members of the recently established Metropolitan Police Force were drafted in to control the crowds and traffic along the Strand.8 The event was reported in exhaustive detail by the Times newspaper who recorded that the order of the carefully stage-managed funerary procession was comprised of the following dignitaries and attendants:
Twelve Peace-officers, to clear the way
Four Marshal’s men, two by two.
The two City Marshal’s, with scarves and hatbands, and crape round the left arm, with a constable on each side.
The carriage of the Lord Mayor, empty.
The Sheriff, Messrs. Ward and Richardson, in the carriage.
The Under Sheriffs.
The Undertaker (Mr. Thornton, jun.) on horseback.
Four Mutes on horseback, in gowns, two by two.
Six Horsemen, in cloaks, two by two.
A Lid of Feathers, with Two Pages.
The Hearse, drawn by six horses, with sixteen pages, eight on each side.
The Pall-bearers, in mourning coaches.
The following mourning coaches then followed, with
The Family of the Deceased;
The Old Servant of Sir Thomas Lawrence;
The Executor [Mr Archibald Keightley];
The Rector of St. George, Bloomsbury;
Sir Henry Halford, the Physician of Sir Thomas;
The Chaplain to the Academy;
The Keeper of the Royal Academy;
The Secretary to the Royal Academy;
The Treasurer to the Royal Academy;
The Academicians and Associates, two in each.
The Students, two by two, in each of the following mourning coaches.
Private mourners, two by two, in each of the succeeding mourning coaches.
The Officers, &c. of the Society of Painters in Water Colours, two by two.
The Officers of the Society of British Artists, two by two.
The Officers, &c., of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution,
Forming, in the whole, a procession of 42 mourning coaches, each drawn by two horses caprisoned with plumes and velvet. Next followed –
The carriage of the late Sir Thomas Lawrence;
Carriages of the Pall-bearers
The Carriages of the Nobility and Gentry; amounting in number to about eighty.9
On its arrival at St Paul’s, the procession was met by the Dean, the Chapter and the Choir before proceeding according to a pre-arranged order into the cathedral.10 The service was held underneath Wren’s famous dome, with the mourners and Academicians arranged in a circle to the left and right around the coffin.11 According to Turner’s biographer, Walter Thornbury, Turner was seated in between John Constable and David Wilkie, the latter of whom remarked upon the fine visual effect created by the event, ‘from which untimely observation Turner turned away with disgust’.12 Finally the body was transferred to the vault of the crypt where it was buried near to other former Academy Presidents, Benjamin West and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and close to where Turner himself would finally be laid to rest over twenty years later. The painter, William Etty described the affecting atmosphere of the occasion:
The only fine day we have had for a long time was that day. When the melancholy pageant had entered the great western door and was half-way up the body of the church, the solemn sound of the organ and anthem swelled on the ear and vibrated to every heart. It was deeply touching ... The organ echoed through the aisles. The sinking sun shed his parting beams through the west window; and we left him alone. – Hail! and farewell!13
Turner’s watercolour depicts the entrance of Lawrence’s coffin into the Great West Door of St Paul’s, followed by a line of mourners walking in pairs. The large black vehicle on the far left-hand side is the horse-drawn hearse topped with feathers and attended by pages, whilst entering from the left of the composition and circling round the statue of Queen Anne on the right in order to drop their inhabitants at the bottom of the steps are some of the numerous carriages which followed the coffin from Somerset House to St Paul’s. The unfolding drama of the parade is watched by groups of people lining the steps and the streets in front of the cathedral, and the crowds are held in place by several black-clad Marshalmen, responsible for law enforcement during this period. Also in attendance are at least two funeral mutes, men wearing hats and sashes and bearing staffs draped in black cloth who were hired to enhance the gravity and dignity of the occasion. One is standing near the central foreground, partially hidden behind another figure in a grey/green coat, whilst a second can be seen beside an empty carriage on the left-hand side of the cathedral steps. Beams of wintry afternoon sunshine stream in from the right-hand side, casting long shadows across the ground and adding to the sombre, melancholy mood of the scene.
Finberg catalogued a miscellaneous pencil sketch on cardboard as Outside St Paul’s: Sir T. Lawrence’s Funeral (see Tate D34940; Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 440), thereby connecting it with the watercolour.14 The study shows a number of figures, some of whom are holding spears or staffs, grouped around the base of a statue. Finberg assumed this to be the sculpture of Queen Anne by Francis Bird which had stood outside St Paul’s Cathedral since 1712 and which appears on the right-hand side of his watercolour.15 However, the statue depicted here is missing the four female representations of England, Ireland, France and the North American colonies grouped around the base in the painting, and furthermore the railings encircling the plinth are too high. It is therefore unlikely that the sketch can be related either to Turner’s watercolour or to the artist’s observations of the funeral.
The visual details of Turner’s painting are confirmed in part by a written account of the ‘last sad ceremonies paid yesterday to departed talent’ which the artist included in a letter to his friend, George Jones, currently residing in Rome. Weighed down by his recent series of losses, and with the memory of the day fresh in his mind, Turner wrote:
Alas! only two short months Sir Thomas followed the coffin of [George] Dawe to the same place. We then were his pall bearers. Who will do the like for me, or when, God only knows how soon. My poor father’s death proved a heavy blow upon me, and has been followed by others of the same dark kind. However, it is something to feel that gifted talent can be acknowledged by the many who yesterday waded up to their knees in snow and muck to see the funeral pomp swelled up by carriages of the great, without the persons themselves.16
As described in the letter, a covering of snow lies on the ground in front of St Paul’s and the assembled spectators are braced against the cold. Some, like the figures in the bottom right-hand corner are huddled together, whilst others like the trio of women standing nearby have their hands tucked inside large winter muffs. Despite Turner’s assertion that he was a pall-bearer, he was not in fact one of the eight official participants listed by the Times (the Earl of Aberdeen, Earl Gower, Earl Clanwilliam, and the politicians Robert Peel, George Agar Ellis, Sir George Murray, John Wilson Croker and Richard Hart Davis).17 The order of the cortege stipulated that Academicians followed behind the chief mourners, at some distance from the hearse. In any case, if Turner had been a pall-bearer he would never have witnessed the coffin being carried into the cathedral from the distant vantage point depicted in his watercolour. His claim, however, perhaps relates to the time spent by the body at Somerset House, when it is conceivable that some of the Academicians would have borne the coffin to and from the room where it was placed overnight.
Another interesting point from Turner’s written account of the funeral is the fact that many of the eighty or so carriages belonging to the nobility and gentry were actually unoccupied, and were sent by their owners as a gesture of respect to add to the grandeur of the occasion.18 Although this was common practice in the nineteenth century, where only the immediate family of the deceased generally attended the funeral, Turner’s letter suggests that he disapproved of the tokenistic nature of this ritual. Amongst the empty carriages was one belonging to the current Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, and Eric Shanes has suggested that Turner has retrospectively rectified his absence by inserting him within the picture.19 Wellington is represented by the man in the foreground wearing a red coat and feathered bicorn hat who seems to be the main focus of the crowd’s attention. This figure, who has his back to the viewer, is wearing the full-dress uniform of a field marshal in the British army with a black mourning band on his left arm.20 His presence is reminiscent of a famous portrait by Lawrence, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), 1814–15 (Royal Collection), which depicted the duke in the same attire standing with his back to St Paul’s and which Turner would have seen exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815.21 Here, however, he has imagined the sitter turned in the opposite direction towards the cathedral as a tacit salute to his former portraitist.22
The red-coated figure plays an important role within the composition of the picture. Amidst the subdued tones of the rest of the scene the splash of bright colour provides an arresting detail which serves to draw the eye of the viewer down to the left-hand foreground. Here the artist has placed an inscription at the edge of the picture plane which reads ‘Funeral of Sir Thos Lawrence, PRA | Janr 21 1830 | SKETCH from MEMORY | IMWT’. The use of the term ‘sketch’ is interesting in relation to a finished work which was subsequently exhibited. Cecilia Powell has stipulated that Turner intended to explain and excuse the haste in which the watercolour was completed, and to justify the picture’s relative lack of finish, particularly evident in the backdrop of the architecture.23 Shanes, meanwhile, has argued that the artist also intended to stress the emotional immediacy of his view.24 A subtle mythical atmosphere is created by the spectral shadow cast across the sarcophagus-like structure bearing the inscription. The silhouette appears to indicate a man holding a spear, although no physical source for the shadow is apparent to the viewer. It is perhaps intended as a symbolic motif, representing a ghostly tribute to the dead man.
Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence was the only watercolour of its kind ever exhibited by Turner at the Royal Academy, and, in fact, was the last work in this medium that he showed there. Clearly intended as a homage to his late friend and colleague, Andrew Wilton has suggested that it illustrates Turner’s deep-seated affection, not only for Lawrence, but for the Academy as a whole.25 However, in the context of Turner’s wider oeuvre it can also be viewed as one of a number of pictures concerned with death, reputation and memory including Pope’s Villa at Twickenham, exhibited 1808 (private collection),26 Thomson’s Aeolian Harp, exhibited 1809 (Manchester City Galleries),27 and The Hero of a Hundred Fights, 1800–10, reworked and exhibited 1847 (Tate, N00551).28 Nicholas Alfrey, for example, has described the watercolour as setting a subject precedent for Turner’s later oil, Peace – Burial at Sea, exhibited 1842 (Tate, N00528), a painting which depicts the interment at sea of fellow artist, David Wilkie (1785–1841).29 Alfrey has argued that the ‘blocked, halting rhythms’ of the watercolour introduce an unsettling feeling of uncertainty, highlighting the gap between the outward ritualistic display of public grief and the authentic sense of loss felt by Turner himself.30 Similarly Peace – Burial at Sea was conceived as a pendant to another painting, War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet, exhibited 1842 (Tate, N00529) which featured as its subject, Napoleon Bonaparte, whose ashes had recently received state burial at Les Invalides in Paris.31 The pair was intended as an ironic juxtaposition, with the anonymous final resting place of the peace-loving artist contrasted with the former, but ultimately temporary, state of exile endured by the war-mongering Napoleon.32
The deaths of his father in 1829 and Lawrence in 1830 appear to have prompted Turner to think about his own mortality and legacy. In his previously quoted letter to George Jones he mournfully commented ‘Who will do the like for me, or when, God only knows how soon.’33 In the same piece of correspondence he also touched upon Lawrence’s financial difficulties and the circumstances surrounding his will, writing to Jones:
Entre nous, much could be written on this subject; much has been in the papers daily of anecdotes, sayings, and doings, contradictory and complex, and nothing certain, excepting that a great mass of property in the unfinished pictures will cover more than demands. The portraits of the potentates are to be exhibited, which will of course produce a large sum. The drawings of the old masters are to be offered to his Majesty in mass, then to the British Museum. Thomas Campbell is to write Sir Thomas’s life at the request of the family, and a portrait of himself, painted lately and engraved, for which great biddings have been already made.34
The cost of Lawrence’s funeral came to £1,000, a huge sum of money which should have been borne by the estate. However, despite his success as an artist, Lawrence was found to be insolvent at his death. A small part of the funeral expenses (£150) was paid by the Academy,35 whilst the rest was met following negotiations with his various creditors.36 Lawrence had hoped that his collection of old master drawings would be purchased for the nation in order to advance the study and appreciation of art in Britain. However, public funds for the realisation of this dream were never to materialise and the works were eventually dispersed amongst private collectors.37 This failure to honour the terms of Lawrence’s will provided a cautionary tale to Turner and probably led to the revision of his own will in 1831 and 1832. In new documents and codicils Turner formally set out his intention to bequeath selected pictures to the nation and to establish both a special gallery to house his works and a charity for poor and decayed male artists. By using his own estate to finance these schemes he hoped to avoid the fate which had befallen Lawrence’s collection. Eventually, after further revisions, Turner’s works did indeed enter the national collection as the ‘Turner Bequest’, although his other wishes were only partially met or ultimately unfulfilled.38
Quoted in Hamlyn 2001, p.162.
Lawrence commissioned the watercolour, Abergavenny Bridge, 1799 (Victoria and Albert Museum), see Wilton 1979, no.252; and owned the oil painting, Newark Abbey, ?exhibited 1807 (Yale Center for British Art); see Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.65.
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, 1823–4 (National Maritime Museum), commissioned by George IV. See Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.252.
Quoted in Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, p.19.
See Hardy George, ‘Turner, Lawrence, Canova and Venetian art: Three previously unpublished letters’, Apollo, October 1996, pp.25–32.
J.M.W. Turner, letter to Charles Eastlake, 11 February 1830. Quoted in Gage 1980, no.159, p.136.
Douglas Goldring, Regency Portrait Painter: The Life of Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A., London 1951, p.332; and Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, p.320.
‘Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence’, The Times, 22 January 1830, p.2.
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians, London 1862, vol.I, pp.177–8.
Quoted in Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1900, .p.76.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.1150.
By 1830 the work has sustained considerable damage and due to its dilapidated state it was eventually replaced in 1886 by a replica version.
Turner, letter to George Jones, 22 February 1830. Quoted in Gage 1980, no.161, pp.137–8.
‘Sir Thomas Lawrence’, The Times, 23 January 1830, p.2.
A full list of these carriages appears in the ‘Sir Thomas Lawrence’, The Times, 23 January 1830, p.2.
Shanes, Joll, Warrell et al. 2000, p.177.
For a full account of the working relationship between Lawrence and Wellington see Susan Jenkins, ‘Sir Thomas Lawrence and the Duke of Wellington: A portraitist and his sitter’, British Art Journal, summer 2007, vol.VIII, no.1, pp.63–7.
Powell 1995, p.56.
Shanes 1997, p.32 note 29.
Wilton 2006, p.151.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.72.
Ibid., no.86.
Ibid., no.427.
Alfrey 1988, p.42. See Butlin and Joll 1984, no.399.
Alfrey 1998, p.42.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.400.
Turner, letter to George Jones, 22 February 1830. Quoted in Gage 1980, no.161, pp.137–8.
A bill from E.N. Thornton & Son for £152 9s exists in the Archive of the Royal Academy of Arts, RAA/SEC/1/71.
See Goldring 1951, p.332, and James Fenton, School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of Arts, London 2006, p.187.
For a full account of Lawrence’s will and the fate of the ‘Lawrence Gallery’ see Smiles 2007, pp.38–41. Drawings by from Lawrence’s collection by Michelangelo and Raphael were eventually presented by a group of subscribers to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in 1845–6.
Ibid, pp.44–5.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘551’ top centre, ‘CCLXIII – 344 (551)’ and ‘L.3. (a)’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII 344’ bottom centre left
Technical notes:
The watercolour is mounted on a larger backing sheet which contains colour trials and excess paint. The overspill has enabled technical analysis of the pigments used,1 and traces of gum Arabic and gum tragacanth were identified within the picture.2

Nicola Moorby
May 2011

Townsend 2002, p.83.
Townsend 2003, p.144.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory exhibited 1830 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2011, 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-funeral-of-sir-thomas-lawrence-a-sketch-from-memory-r1133879, accessed 25 July 2021.