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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Norham Castle, on the River Tweed c.1822-3

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Norham Castle, on the River Tweed c.1822–3
Turner Bequest CCVIII O
Watercolour on white wove watercolour paper, 156 x 216 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram, bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Commanding a ford on the River Tweed, Norham was an important site in the defence of English borders from Scottish attack. Rendered in bleak silhouette against a sky of gold and blue hues, the oblong sail of the boat beneath the castle reinforces the rectilinearity of the upper part of its keep.1 This stretch of the Tweed marked the boundary between the two countries: Scotland on the left, indicated by the kilted figure wearing a Tam O’Shanter who draws in a net from the water’s edge, and England on the right. As Barbara Hofland writes, the site was ‘well calculated for a defensive and commanding fortress, being seated on a steep bank, which rises abruptly from the river’.2 After years of battle and decline, however, its ‘high, dismantled tower, massive fragments, and broken wall, hang in frowning but picturesque majesty’, inciting ‘more than usual interest from being the opening scene of Sir Walter Scott’s beautiful poem of “Marmion”’.3
Turner first visited and sketched Norham Castle in Northumberland on his 1797 tour (Tate D00682, Turner Bequest XXVII U). It became a recurring subject in his art, inspiring several watercolours and oil paintings including Norham Castle, Sunrise of 17984 and of about 1845 (Tate N01981). The composition of this watercolour is similar to that made in the North of England sketchbook of 1797 (Tate D00966; Turner Bequest XXXIV 57), although in comparison with the Liber Studiorum drawing of the same subject (Tate D08158; Turner Bequest CXVIII D) Turner has ‘contracted the width of the design and heightened both the stump of the tower and the cliff on which it sits’.5 Turner made other drawings of Norham in the Helmsley sketchbook of 1801 (Tate D02534–D02550; Turner Bequest LIII 42a–50) and the Abbotsford sketchbook of 1831 (Tate D26027; Turner Bequest CCLXVII 59a).
Norham was among the earliest subjects produced for the Rivers of England series. It was engraved in mezzotint by Charles Turner and was issued on 1 January 1824 (Tate impressions T04799–T04801). Turner had also engraved the view of Norham in the Liber Studiorum (Tate impressions A01119, A01120).
This drawing is one of the first in which Turner applied watercolours ‘prismatically’. This is the system where primary colours (red, blue, and yellow) are applied in ‘minute, discrete, transparent dots’ and where ‘two of these three colours occasionally but systematically, are superimposed on another – red on blue, yellow on blue, and yellow on red – to produce dots of purple, green, and orange’.6 This is particularly apparent at the shadows immediately around the edges and openings of the ruin. Turner is thought to have become aware of this type of colour theory through Sir David Brewster on his 1818 journey to Scotland.7 The prismatic system of colouring, writes the art historian Gerard Finley, is a ‘reminiscence of the miniaturist’s procedure and technique of dots and hatchings’.8
Paper historian Peter Bower notes that Turner utilised the ‘various properties of his paper grounds in very specific ways’ in his Norham Castle subjects.9 The earlier drawings of the 1790s, ‘explore in different ways the translucence of paper, using different methods of washing colour on the back of the sheet in three instances and in the other case painting on a secondary support’ (Tate D40191, D02343, D02344, D36625; Turner Bequest L C, B, CCCLXXIX 1).10 This drawing and the majority of the Rivers of England watercolours were executed on Hollingworth’s Whatman white wove paper which had a ‘more pronounced surface grain and a very different felt mark’.11
Shanes 1990, p.106, no.81 (colour).
Hofland 1827, p.9.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.324–5, no.226. This drawing was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798, accompanied by lines of poetry from Thomson’s Seasons: ‘But yonder comes the powerful King of Day,/ Rejoicing in the East: the lessening cloud,/ The kindling azure, and the mountain’s brow/ Illumin’d – his near approach betoken glad; see Warrell 1991, p.30, no.10.
Warrell 1991, p.31, no.10.
Finley 1999, p.191.
Warrell 1991, p.31, no.10.
Finley 1973, p.386–7.
Bower 1999, p.41, no.13, reproduced.
Technical notes:
The back of the sheet has some marks in red and yellow watercolour wash.
Stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram at centre and with ‘CCVIII O’ at centre towards top; inscribed in pencil ‘36’ and ‘O’ towards top left.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

How to cite

Alice Rylance-Watson, ‘Norham Castle, on the River Tweed c.1822–3 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, August 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-norham-castle-on-the-river-tweed-r1146212, accessed 25 May 2024.