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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Rouen Cathedral c.1832

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Rouen Cathedral c.1832
Turner Bequest CCLIX 109
Gouache and watercolour on blue paper, 140 x 194 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLIX – 109’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
By Thomas Higham in 1833, published in 1834.
In this watercolour Turner magnificently conveys the façade of Rouen cathedral in northern France, with dramatic use of light. He utilises contrasting colours to illustrate sunlight falling across the building, with warm tones of orange and yellow and brilliant white to indicate light hitting the right side of the building, and contrasting cool tones of lilac and pale turquoise blue as well as pink to convey the left side in shadow. He picks out the intricate textured detail of the carved stonework with pen and gouache. At left, the rust-coloured shades of the arched building soar into the blue tones of the sky, these contrasting colours accentuating the drama. Turner indicates a square receding into space in the background and a wealth of figures in the foreground.
The renowned French artist Claude Monet famously produced similar studies of the coloured effects of light on the façade of Rouen cathedral some sixty years after this watercolour. As art historian Anne Lyles states, Turner made another view of the cathedral’s west front, The Cathedral and Entrance to the Bookseller's Court at Rouen, Normandy, c.1832 (Tate D24714, Turner Bequest CCLIX 149) as seen through the arches of the Portail des Libraires rather than from the market square as here, which was perhaps intended as an alternative design for this series of watercolours.1
The watercolour is based on a sketch of the cathedral’s façade (Tate D24541; Turner Bequest CCLVIII 22)2 and another of the towers (D24520; CCLVIII 11) 3 from Turner’s Dieppe, Rouen and Paris sketchbook of 1821.
An engraving was made from this watercolour by Thomas Higham in 1833 as Rouen Cathedral (Tate impressions T07525, T05606, T06236, T06237 and T06238) for the volume Wanderings by the Seine of 1834.4 In the engraving the intricate detail of the façade is enhanced further.
Lyles 1992, p.60.
Wilton 1979, p.414; Lyles 1992, p.60; Warrell 1999, p.275.
Warrell 1999, p.275.
Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Seine, London, Paris and Berlin 1834, opposite p.152 (but recorded in ‘List of Engravings’ as p.150).
Blank, except for an inscription ‘17’ in grey gouache in the top left corner of the sheet, probably made by Turner. There are one or possibly two faint white chalk marks on the right side of the sheet. Right of centre the sheet is inscribed with a pencil note reading ‘18 [?L]’. The sheet is stamped just off centre with the Turner Bequest monogram above the number ‘CCLIX – 109’, which is also written in pencil in the lower right corner of the sheet. There is a small circular greyish stain at the bottom centre of the sheet.

Caroline South
November 2017

How to cite

Caroline South, ‘Rouen Cathedral c.1832 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, November 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-rouen-cathedral-r1195801, accessed 27 June 2022.