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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Gloucester Cathedral ('Boston Stump' or 'The Hare') c.1823-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gloucester Cathedral (‘Boston Stump’ or ‘The Hare’) circa 1823–6
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 307
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 230 x 300 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ink ‘CCLXIII–307’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
(see main catalogue text)
Various topographical identifications of the tower in this evocative composition – ‘a quintessential image of a nation proud of its history and independence’1 – have been offered. It is usually known as ‘Gloucester Cathedral’, following Rawlinson’s tentative title in his catalogue of Turner’s engravings, while he also offered the alternative ‘Boston Stump’.2 Turner’s tower and pinnacles seems too slender to be Gloucester’s, which he had recorded close up in slightly truncated form in the 1795 South Wales sketchbook (Tate D00623; Turner Bequest XXVI 68 verso). Nor does the design appear to show St Botolph’s Church, Boston, Lincolnshire, known as the Boston Stump, which he had drawn in the 1797 North of England sketchbook (Tate D00992; Turner Bequest XXXIV 81a), with its prominent octagonal stone lantern between its four pinnacles.
In discussing a closely related watercolour (Tate D25368, and see also D25334; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 246, 212), Gerald Wilkinson questioned the Gloucester and Boston identifications: ‘It strikes me as a midland town with a parish church. The colours, of evening or early morning, are consistent with a smoky atmosphere.’3 More recently James Hamilton has made a specific case for the subject here and in Tate D25368 being St Mary’s Church, Warwick, seen to the south from Hill Wootton,4 relating it to Turner’s Midlands tour of 1830, with the ‘knock-on effect’ of redating the whole of the ‘Little Liber’.5 However, St Mary’s Church tower, which Turner drew from Warwick itself in the 1830 Kenilworth sketchbook (Tate D22048–D22050; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 39, 39a, 40) has tall pinnacles at its corners but also a distinctive shorter pinnacle at the centre of each side, not clearly shown in the present work; nor does there appear to be a sketch from the distant vantage point Hamilton suggests. It seems entirely possible that in defining the tower and pinnacles in two or three strokes of watercolour here, Turner did not have any particular church in mind, as suggested by Ruskin and Finberg’s generic ‘Cathedral Tower’ description.6
The composition was engraved in mezzotint,7 traditionally ascribed to Turner himself (see the ‘Little Liber’ introduction). The copper plate was one of those found in his studio after his death, and it is noted as having been sold in 1873 after Sir Francis Seymour Haden took a few impressions from it; it was subsequently reworked.8 It was presumably the plate of the same title in the 24 March 1873 Christie’s sale of prints from Turner’s studio9 (again, see the Introduction). The development of the design through two trial proof stages is described by Rawlinson and Dupret, who mention the present watercolour as the source.10 As with other ‘Little Liber’ designs such as Ship in a Storm (Tate D25432; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 309a), there was elaboration at the mezzotint stage, here with the addition at the second stage of a hare and burdock leaves, mushrooms and other plants, accounting for the alternative name ‘The Hare’.11 The impression in the Tate collection (T05571) is from the late nineteenth century.
John Ruskin knew of the print from this design, then known as ‘Study of a Sky, with a Cathedral Tower, and Evening Mist on the Meadows’, in 1857, when it was exhibited at Marlborough House, London as no.112 (subsequently given the National Gallery number 571a), together with no.113 (later 571b), ‘Moonlight, on Calm Sea’, another ‘Little Liber’ design, now usually known as Shields Lighthouse (Tate D25431; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 308): ‘Both of these were engraved by himself’.12
As discussed in the introduction, this ‘Little Liber’ subject is probably the one noted as ‘Hare’ among others listed inside the front cover of Turner’s Worcester and Shrewsbury sketchbook, in use in 1831 (Tate D41053; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX).
Evening (Tate D35956; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 113), a watercolour study, has been tentatively related to this composition by Eric Shanes;13 the similarities are effectively limited to the vertical feature on the left and the sunset theme. However, it is much looser, perhaps representing a coastal subject, and has not been catalogued in the present section.
There are two watercolour studies of coastal subjects on the verso of the present work (D40149), unrelated to the present composition or to the ‘Little Liber’.
Hamilton 2003, p.151.
Rawlinson II 1913, p.390.
Gerald Wilkinson, Turner’s Colour Sketches 1820–34, London 1975, p.119.
See Hamilton 1997, p.255; and Hamilton 2003, p.149.
Abstract of James Hamilton’s paper ‘Turner’s Birmingham – Some Local Issues raised by the Exhibition “Turner’s Britain”’ for a January 2004 conference at the Barber Institute, Birmingham in ‘Turner 2004: New Perspectives’, 2004, p.5.
See also Shanes 1997, p.28.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.I, London 1908, p.cxi, and vol.II 1913, pp.211, 390 no.809.
See Rawlinson II 1913, p.390; and Dupret 1989, p.46.
The First Portion of the Valuable Engravings from the Works of the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A. ..., Christie, Manson & Woods, London 24 March 1873 (928).
Rawlinson II 1913, p.390; Dupret 1989, p.46.
See Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.60, 62.
‘Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8’ in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.280.
Shanes 1997, pp.94 under ‘Boston Stump/Gloucester Cathedral’, 98 under ‘“Liber Studiorum” and “Little Liber” Series’ as ‘?Study for “Gloucester Cathedral” (also known as “Boston Stump” and “The Hare”)’
Technical notes:
Pencil work is limited to a rough line of trees along the grey band at the horizon. There are finger-marks in the paint in the sky level with the tower at the left-hand edge. Darkening to the paper is evident in the sky, with paler strips to the left, right and top edges which were once protected by a mount.

Matthew Imms
November 2011

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Gloucester Cathedral (‘Boston Stump’ or ‘The Hare’) c.1823–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 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-gloucester-cathedral-boston-stump-or-the-hare-r1133283, accessed 23 May 2024.