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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Castle above the Meadows circa 1806

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Castle above the Meadows circa 1806
Turner Bequest CXVI K
Pencil, pen and ink, and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 184 x 262 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
The 1808 Liber Studiorum print derived from this drawing was untitled, but the subject was described as Okehampton Castle, Devon, in the pioneering 1872 Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition catalogue compiled by Taylor and Vaughan;1 this was questioned by Rawlinson in his 1878 Liber catalogue, where he established the customary, generic title.2 Indeed, Turner did not visit Okehampton until several years later and his watercolours for The Rivers of England (Tate D18138; Turner Bequest CCVIII E)3 and Picturesque Views in England and Wales (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)4 were not engraved until 1825 and 1828 respectively; however, their fundamental elements – a castle on a hill dominating rustic activities in the foreground – are similar, and it is possible that he had the Liber design at the back of his mind when he came to develop these later compositions.
The composition has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.81 (Pastoral Landscape).5 Gillian Forrester has suggested a specific literary source for the boy with his flute in the present work: the ‘Januarye’ eclogue of the Shepheardes Calendar (1579) by Edmund Spenser (circa 1552–1599). Although its protagonist, Colin Clout, is tending sheep rather than cattle, this pastoral vision was known to Turner, who used the character’s name in his own verses around this time.6 Although the setting may be imaginary, the cattle in the foreground are perhaps based on Turner’s sketches; in particular, the cow descending to the left is similar to one of a group in a pencil and watercolour study of about 1801 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Ruskin School Collection),7 and to a watercolour of a single animal in the Cows sketchbook (Tate D03726; Turner Bequest LXII 6).
The composition is recorded, as ‘2[:] 2 EP Castle’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)8 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.9 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Castle’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).10 Its inclusion in this category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction) lends weight to the view that the scene is imaginary.
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers in part 2 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.7–11;11 see also Tate D08111, D08113–D08115; Turner Bequest CXVI J, L, M, N). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00925) and the published engraving (A00926). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category (see also Tate D08103, D08117, D08122, D08128, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; CXVI B, P, U, CXVII A, E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N).
Towards the end of his career, Turner used this composition as the basis of one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see the general Liber introduction); the painting, traditionally known as Landscape with River and Distant Mountains, is in the Walker Art Gallery (National Museums Liverpool).12 Butlin and Joll grouped it with other paintings derived from the Liber, but did not relate it specifically to The Castle above the Meadows, presumably because it lacks the prominent flanking trees of the original, and the area occupied by the track in the foreground of the drawing, evokes in the painting water reflecting the pale sky; however, the main lines of the landscape correspond, and the connection was made by Ian Warrell in a 1991 lecture on the Liber-inspired paintings, given at the Liverpool gallery.13
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.20 no.8.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.22–3 no.8.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.385 no.738, reproduced.
Ibid., p.393 no.802, reproduced.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.81; from 1644 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–87: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, pp.103–4, reproduced pl.81).
Forrester 1996, pp.28, 38 note 28 (citing transcriptions in Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, pp.152, 157), p.55.
Wilton 1979, p.346 no.409, reproduced; Luke Herrmann, Ruskin and Turner: A Study of Ruskin as a Collector of Turner, Based on his Gifts to the University of Oxford; Incorporating a Catalogue Raisonné of the Turner Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, London 1968, p.91 no.71, pl.XIII.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg 1924, pp.25–44.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.303 no.517, pl.519 (colour).
Forrester 1996, p.55 note 4.
Technical Notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘1794 | J Whatman’.1 The heaviest washes have been in contact with another sheet of paper and have come off, presumably while still wet (the darks in the etched version being more pronounced). The single umber pigment results in an overall dark, cool brown tone.2 The faded washes appear greyer in the foliage against the sky, around the figure and cattle, in the bulk of the castle (though the furthest ramparts are in a paler, warmer wash) and on the distant hill behind the trees at the left. There is some pencil outlining around the cattle and figure. The techniques and materials are similar to those used for two other Liber drawings – Bridge and Goats (Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R) and The Junction of the Severn and the Wye (Tate D08132; Turner Bequest CXVII E);3 it is likely that they are among the earliest, and thus most tentative, of Turner’s designs for the series.
Ibid., p.54 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Ibid.; Forrester 1996, p.11.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘<467>’ top centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – K’ bottom left
The sheet appears abraded at the right, possibly from having formerly been stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Castle above the Meadows c.1806 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-the-castle-above-the-meadows-r1131714, accessed 23 June 2024.