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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Norham Castle at Sunrise c.1830

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Norham Castle at Sunrise c.1830
Watercolour on white wove paper, 308 x 488 mm
Stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram above ‘CCLXIII – 22’ bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Subsequent commentators have adopted Finberg’s suggestion that this is a view of Norham Castle, on the River Tweed in Northumberland; at this point, the river marks the border between England and (to the left of the present composition) Scotland. A pencil view in the 1797 North of England sketchbook (Tate D00966; Turner Bequest XXXIV 57) had been developed through two pencil and watercolour studies (Tate D02343, D02344; Turner Bequest L B, C) towards two similar finished watercolours, Norham Castle on the Tweed, Summer’s Morn, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (private collection)1 and Norham Castle, Sunrise, of about the same date (Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford).2 These led to a somewhat compressed watercolour design of about 1806–7 (Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D) engraved in 1816 for the Liber Studiorum (Tate impressions: A01119, A01120).
Turner evidently found Norham ‘inspirational’,3 returning briefly to sketch on Scottish tours in 1801 and 1831, and producing further finished watercolours: one of around 1822 is an informal illustration to Sir Walter Scott (private collection),4 in an upright interpretation flooded with afternoon light; another, for an 1834 edition of Scott, shows the moon rising behind the castle (private collection).5 In between came the design (Tate D18148; Turner Bequest CCVIII O)6 engraved in 1824 for the Rivers of England, which is a variant of the Liber design, but distinguished most immediately by its intense, jewel-like colouring. Towards the end of his career, Turner used the Liber composition for one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the series: Norham Castle, Sunrise, of about 1845 (Tate N01981),7 one of the most celebrated late, unfinished works in the Turner Bequest.
These views all show the Castle from a viewpoint on the right bank or the middle of the river, whereas the present study is from the left bank, and from a ‘close-up’8 viewpoint, emphasising the looming height of the castle from below; the effect is partly reminiscent of a different 1797 sketch, showing the castle and a gabled watermill below it on the right bank (Tate D00682; Turner Bequest XXVII U). It has been noted by Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage that the gabled building which appears on the left bank in the first pencil sketch mentioned above (D00966) appears to be echoed in the simplified brown form in the foreground below the castle here;9 there are also ghostly suggestions of sails indicated in washes against the bank on the right.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage dated this work to about 1817, as a ‘halfway stage’ between the Liber and Rivers of England versions.10 Wilton subsequently suggested that it is a ‘colour-beginning specifically’ for the Rivers watercolour of about 1822–3,11 and Ian Warrell has suggested that the present study ‘anticipates the prismatic effect’ of the colours in the Rivers design,12 implying that it preceded the watercolour. However, it may be observed that while their rich colour schemes are comparable, their compositions diverge significantly
Eric Shanes has dated this study to about 1830, and posited it as an undeveloped composition for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales.13 The starting point for dating is the 1828 watermark which he records, although this is not readily evident in the sheet (see the technical notes below). Nevertheless, the loose yet confident execution appears consistent with other England and Wales colour studies datable on various grounds to the late 1820s or early 1830s, and Shanes’s dating has been adopted here in preference to others discussed above.
Tate D25270 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 148) has been tentatively proposed as another Norham colour study. 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.
There is a second colour study on the other side of the sheet (Tate D25144 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 22).
Wilton 1979, p.324 no.225.
Ibid., pp.324–5 no.226.
David Hill, Turner in the North: A Tour through Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, the Lake District, Lancashire and Lincolnshire in the Year 1797, New Haven and London 1996, p.88, and see p.88–[93] in general; see also ‘Retrospect: Norham Castle 1798–1840’, in Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, pp.172–4.
Wilton 1979, p.424 no.1052.
Ibid., p.430 no.1099.
Ibid., p.385 no.736, pl.175 (colour).
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.301–2 no.512, pl.514 (colour).
Shanes 1997, p.27.
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.173
Ibid., p.174; followed in Spender 1980, p.122, and Butlin and Joll 1984, p.302.
Wilton 1979, p.385; see also Gage 1987, p.[88], where dated c.1823.
Warrell 1991, p.31.
Shanes 1997, p.95; see also pp.27, 100, 104.
Technical notes:
The work is currently set in a double-sided window mount, with Tate D25144 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 22) visible on the other side. Eric Shanes has noted an 1828 watermark,1 but this is not apparent despite close examination.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

Shanes 1997, pp.95, 100.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Norham Castle at Sunrise 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-norham-castle-at-sunrise-r1144324, accessed 25 June 2024.