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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Northampton Election, 6 December 1830 c.1830-1

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Northampton Election, 6 December 1830 c.1830–1
Watercolour, gouache and pen and ink on white wove paper, 292 x 438 mm
Inscribed by Turner in watercolour including political slogans and signage within the composition (see main catalogue entry)
Purchased 2007
Charles Heath by 1833 when included in Moon, Boys and Graves exhibition
Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar by 1862
Henry Alexander Munro-Butler-Johnstone, sold Christie’s, London, 2 June 1877 (38), £220 10s
Bought by White
R.D. Holland, offered at Christie’s, London, 17 December 1937 (57), unsold
Mrs Young, by whom sold to Spink and Son, London, 1947
Private collection, UK
Private collection, USA
On loan to the Indiana Art Museum, Bloomington 2003
All Saint’s Church, Northampton, is shown as the backdrop to the unopposed re-election of Lord Althorp as a county Member of Parliament for Northamptonshire on 6 December 1830. Eric Shanes was the first to identify the specific event,1 although it had long been recognised as an election,2 and subsequent commentators have largely followed Shanes as the basis of their references to the subject.3
John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp (1782–1845) was the son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, and succeeded to his father’s title as 3rd Earl in 1834. He had been a Whig MP since 1806, with increasingly progressive sympathies. His appointment to Lord Grey’s new government, in which he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, necessitated standing again for his House of Commons seat. Althorp became closely involved with the Great Reform Act, passed in 1832 to resolve some of the major inequities in the British parliamentary system, and with the 1833 abolition of slavery in the British Empire.4 A later account notes how in December 1830 Althorp ‘made a triumphal entry into Northampton with his carriage hauled by supporters’, with ‘laurel wreaths’ and ‘crimson and white cockades’; he later travelled ‘in an ornate triumphal car emblazoned with the motto “Not for himself, but his country”’, with ‘banners with such mottoes as “Reform, Peace, Retrenchment”, [and] “The Friend of the People”’, before a banquet at the George Inn.5

Apart from ‘THE G[...]’ on the façade of the building at the far right (representing the George), there are extensive inscriptions on the flags and banners cascading down from the top left to the foreground:
‘NORTHMAPTON [sic, partly corrected with a horizontal bar across the first part of the ‘M’] | INDEPEN[?A or D]NCE | FOR EVER’ on the banner at the top left, which Shanes posits as a deliberate mistake, as a pun on the local pronunciation of Althorp as ‘Altrop’6
‘[... ?to]’ on a smaller banner below and to its right, and ‘REFOR[M]’ on a small flag at the centre left
‘A CHARTER | of RIGHTS’ on a banner or swag attached to the left side of the large garland above Lord Althorp (carried on a chair on the left), and ‘[...] LORDS COMM[...] | [...] BY [...]’ on the corresponding swag to its right (the lettering on both now being rather faint)
‘SUCCESS to NORTH | INDEPENDE’ above and below a coat of arms with a red lion on a banner to the right of Althorp, all partly concealed by another banner or placard, apparently topped by a heraldic device or emblem, reading ‘SPEED The PLOUGH’ above a picture of a ploughing scene, the traditional rural refrain probably alluding to the ‘agricultural interests’ of the constituency7
‘THE Purity of Elections | is the Triumph of LAW | [...] | [...] Poll [...] | NO BRIBERY’ on the largest banner at the bottom centre (behind which appears to be another with a heraldic animal), perhaps echoing ‘The Triumph of Westminster and the Purity of Election’, the slogan of a well-known Radical meeting of 18298
‘NORTHA[...]TON UNI[...]’ around a garlanded placard to its right, with ‘UNITY’ and ‘[?Strength]’ above and below an emblem of clasped hands within it
There are also several effectively blank white flags or banners towards the top left, and Union Flags flying from the building in the middle distance on the left and the hotel on the right.
The specifics of Turner’s depiction of the triumphal procession were probably taken from contemporary newspaper accounts,9 in a scene which ‘renews the stylistic traditions of earlier generations of English political artists’,10 such as William Hogarth (1697–1764), James Gillray (1757–1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827)11 and George Cruikshank (1792–1878). Althorp’s being carried rather than using the reported transport is perhaps intended as an echo of Chairing the Member, one of Hogarth’s 1754–5 Election paintings owned by Turner’s friend and fellow RA, the architect John Soane (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London).12 Shanes has also suggested the influence of Hogarth’s 1747 engraving The Industrious ’Prentice Lord Mayor of London, plate 12 of Industry and Idleness, with its election coach, crowds, flags and banners, and windows and balconies full of onlookers.13 Turner’s ‘Purity’ banner, prominent in the central foreground, effectively serves as an explanatory gloss on the image, like the elaborate Biblical text cartouche in the border below Hogarth’s ’Prentice design, while the billowing flags and banners on the left perhaps subconsciously recall free-form speech bubbles in the cartoons of Rowlandson, Gillray and Cruikshank. Shanes has further suggested the influence of Gillray’s engraving of the Middlesex-Election, 1804,14 a near-riotous scene around a carriage painted with emblems of ‘PEACE’ and ‘PLENTY’. Barry Venning has noted the potential for ‘violence and mayhem’ in the unpoliced situation Turner depicts.15
Turner’s political allegiances are not clear-cut, but the celebratory mood of this work and his close friendship with his late Yorkshire patron Walter Fawkes, himself a radical Whig MP,16 suggest sympathy for Althorp, although there were presumably limits to the radical inclinations of the artist (who was after all a loyal Royal Academician).17 Nevertheless, the watercolour Fairfaxiana series and associated historical vignettes Turner had produced for Fawkes from 1815 onwards (private collection)18 include elaborate depictions of flags and minutely worded political and legal documents; Revolution 168819 includes a ‘Bill of Rights’ ending with the declaration that ‘PARLIAMENTS | ought to be Full, FREE | and FREQUENT’.20
As Shanes has proposed, Turner may have intended the woman in French costume at the far left with her hand on the shoulder of the old (and old-fashioned) seated figure to represent ‘Marianne’, the embodiment of Republican France, as a reminder of the violent July Revolution in Paris a few months earlier and the potential consequences of a lack of peaceful progress towards reform; two nearby women also appear to be dressed in the French style.21 The wording of the banners carried by the crowd is both less ambiguous and more optimistic for Britain’s future. James Hamilton has interpreted the left-hand figure’s costume as Greek, reflecting Turner’s interest in the cause of the country’s independence and depiction of Greek costume in other English scenes;22 although the distinctive Phrygian cap has classical origins, it is also one of the standard attributes of Marianne, and her cockade perhaps suggests that the contemporary French reference is more likely in this case. Shanes notes that the stagecoach, with its agitated horses caught up in the procession, serves to ‘intensify the mood of urgency’23 or even to suggest ‘social mobility’.24
Turner had sketched the church on two occasions. In 1794 he recorded its partially obscured west front looking along Gold Street in the Matlock sketchbook (Tate D00218; Turner Bequest XIX 12); an engraving from an untraced watercolour of the view25 was published in 1796 (Tate impression: T05917). Quite fortuitously, he happened to have passed through the town again while revisiting the Midlands in the late summer of 1830, drawing the church in the Birmingham and Coventry sketchbook (Tate D22352, D22353; Turner Bequest CCXL 17a–18).26 This time he included more of the west front from a closer viewpoint. He must have moved opposite Mercer’s Row on the north side of the church to include the elaborate dome and cupola over the nave; it stands directly behind the tower when the west front is viewed head on, but is shown significantly to its left in the sketch. In the watercolour the prominent but much simplified dome is shown far to the right of the tower. The latter is a modified survival from the medieval church destroyed by fire in 1675, the rest of the church being rebuilt in classical style between 1676 and 1680, with the 1701 Ionic portico echoing Inigo Jones’s lost equivalent at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.27 Incidentally, the present work may be compared and contrasted with another crowd scene in front of a classical church portico, that of Wren’s rebuilt St Paul’s, which Turner made earlier in 1830: The Funeral of Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Sketch from Memory (Tate D25467; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 344).28
The buildings of which Turner made slight records to the left and right in 1830 do not survive, and in any case were exchanged for largely invented ones here, rather like the flats of a stage set, although he was correct in showing the (somewhat generic) George Inn in more or less the right juxtaposition at the corner of George Row and Bridge Street. The building was demolished in 1921,29 but two anonymous oil versions of a naive but apparently accurate view of the church and the George from the south-west (Northampton Museums and Art Gallery, dated c.1830; Northampton Central Library) are useful documents. They confirm that then (as now) the upper part of the tower was of plain brick, rather than the pale stone or stucco suggested by Turner’s watercolour. In his sketch he had barely indicated the statue of Charles II which still stands above the portico, and omitted it altogether from the present work; various other inaccuracies such as the apparent shallowness and exaggerated width of the colonnade reflect the sketchiness of his source material. The small pavilion shown in front of the south end of the portico also appears in the anonymous paintings, housing a well or pump.
Turner devoted much work from the mid 1820s to the late 1830s to producing watercolour designs for his important print project Picturesque Views in England and Wales, commissioned by Charles Heath (1785–1848),30 who owned the Northampton watercolour at the time of a London exhibition relating ‘Expressly’ to the series in 1833.31 It had presumably been painted relatively soon after the election prompted Turner’s interest in depicting Northampton (Shanes dates it to the winter of 1830–132), but it was never engraved, probably because its subject was so explicitly political and specific33 as compared to the subtler ways Turner introduced allusions to contemporary and historical events in other England and Wales compositions.34 Also, the setting is hardly conventionally ‘Picturesque’, with ‘nature ... almost excluded’.35 The same political reservations may have prevented The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, made soon after Turner witnessed the fire in 1834, being included (Tate D36235; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV a 373),36 although a view of Nottingham of about 1831 (Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery)37 engraved for the series in 1833 (no Tate impression) appears to include hopeful symbolism relating to the passing of the 1832 Reform Act.38 One watercolour actually engraved for England and Wales, showing Aldeburgh is at Tate (N05236);39 it was published as Aldborough, Suffolk in 1827 (Tate impressions: T04521, T04522, T06076). Merton College, Oxford of about 1835–8, was probably intended as a late addition to the series, but remained in Turner’s studio (Tate D25472; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 349).40
The present work’s provenance until 1947 is recorded in Andrew Wilton’s catalogue of Turner’s watercolours,41 and this information can be confirmed and augmented from various other sources.42 After leaving Charles Heath’s hands, by 1862 it was in the collection of Turner’s friend and patron H.A.J. Munro of Novar (1797–1864);43 along with many other Turners it passed to his nephew Henry Alexander Munro-Butler-Johnstone (1837–1902),44 and was sold in 1877 for £220 10s to ‘White’,45 possibly a pseudonym. It was later in various private hands, passing through the hands of the London art dealers Spink & Son in 1947, subsequently being in a British private collection.46 By 2003 it was on loan to the Indiana Art Museum, Bloomington47 from an American private collection,48 a few years before being acquired by Tate.49
The current entry was developed from an April 2007 online Tate short text by the present author (marking Tate’s acquisition of the work), indebted in many particulars to research and interpretations presented by Shanes in various contexts. See Shanes 1979, pp.38–9; 1990a, pp.222–3; 1990b, pp.[325], 375 note 39; 2004, p.142; and 2007, pp.6–7.
See Thornbury 1862, II, p.396, Thornbury 1897, p.593, Graves III 1921, p.232, and Finberg 1961, p.342.
See Wilton 1979, p.403; Lindsay 1985, pp.121, 153; Gage 1987, p.214; Wilton 1987, p.[190]; Helsinger 1994, pp.120 note 1, 122 note 16, 124 note 27; Bailey 1997, p.220; Finley 1999, p.183 (albeit confusing the identity of Althorp in the composition); Smiles 2000, p.58; Hamilton 2003, pp.25, 152, 161–2; Venning 2003, p.211; Wilton 2006, p.170; Brown 2007, pp.8, 14; and Warrell 2007, p.126.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; Ellis Archer Wasson, ‘Spencer, John Charles, Viscount Althorp and third Earl Spencer (1782–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 August 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26133; and ‘SPENCER, see John Charles, John Charles, Visct. Althorp (1782–1845), of Wiseton Hall, nr. East Retford, Notts.’, The History of Parliament, accessed 19 August 2013, http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/spencer-john-1782-1845.
Eric G. Forrester, Northamptonshire County Elections and Electioneering 1695–1832, Oxford 1941, p.128, as quoted in Shanes 1979, p.38 and Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Shanes 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.6.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.223; and 2004, p.142; see also Gage 1987, p.234.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.223; and 2004, p.142.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; and 1990a, p.223.
Shanes 1979, p.[39].
See Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Ibid.; Shanes 1990b, p.[325]; 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.7.
Shanes 1990b, p.375 note 53.
Venning 2003, p.216.
See James Hamilton, ‘Fawkes, Walter Ramsden (1779–1825)’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.103–5.
See Gage 1987, pp.212–14, and Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.99–100.
See under Wilton 1979, p.367 nos.582 and 583, reproduced; and Hamilton 2003, pp.169–72, pls.143–7 (colour).
Hamilton 2003, pl.145 (colour).
See also Bailey 1997, pp.220–1.
See Shanes 1979, pp.38–[9], 1990a, p.223, and 2007, pp.6–7.
Hamilton 2003, pp.160–1, 162.
Shanes 1979, p.[39].
Shanes 1990a, p.223.
Wilton 1979, p.312 no.118.
See Shanes 1979, pp.38, 156; 2004, p.142; and 2007 p.7.
See Nikolaus Pevsner, Northamptonshire, The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1961, pp.308–9.
Wilton 1979, p.359 no.521, reproduced.
Shanes 1979, p.38.
See Luke Herrmann, ‘Heath, James (1757–1834) and Charles (1785–1848)’ in Joll, Butlin and Herrmann 2001, p.137.
A Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., Expressly Made for his Work, Now in Course of Publication, of Views in England and Wales: And also for Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works: Now Privately Exhibiting at Moon, Boys and Graves’, 6 Pall Mall, exhibition catalogue, Moon, Boys and Graves, London 1833, no.55, as ‘Northampton, Northamptonshire’, noting Heath as the lender, as transcribed in Shanes 1979, p.157; see also Finberg 1961, p.342; Shanes 1979, pp.14, 38; Shanes 1990a, p.222; and Brown 2007, p.15.
Shanes 1979, p.38 and subsequent texts.
See Shanes 1979, p.38; 1990a, p.222; 2004, p.142; and 2007, p.6; also Hamilton 2003, pp.152, 161, and Brown 2007, p.8.
See the commentaries in Shanes 1979 and 1990, and Helsinger 1994, pp.103–25 on the social and political aspects of the series in general.
Shanes 1979, p.18.
Wilton 1979, p.359 no.522, reproduced.
Ibid., p.399 no.850, reproduced.
See Shanes 1979, p.[41], and 1990a, pp.228–9.
Wilton 1979, p.392 no.795, reproduced.
Ibid., p.404 no.887, pl.201.
Ibid., p.403.
See also Finberg 1961, p.498 no.442.
See also ‘Water-Colour Drawings by Turner in Possession of H.A. [sic] Munro, Esq., of Hamilton-Place, Piccadilly’ in Thornbury 1862, II, p.396, as ‘Northampton – Election-time’ and the equivalent listing in Thornbury 1897, p.593.
For uncle and nephew see Charles Sebag-Montefiore, ‘Munro of Novar, Hugh Andrew Johnstone (1797–1864)’ in Joll, Butlin and Herrmann 2001, pp.194–5.
Graves III 1921, p.232.
Shanes 1979, p.101, and 1990a, p.223.
Hamilton 2003, p.161.
Shanes 1990b, p.[325].
See Turner Society News, no.106, August 2007, p.2; and Shanes in ibid., p.7.
Laid down; not examined out of frame.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Northampton Election, 6 December 1830 c.1830–1 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2014, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, February 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-northampton-election-6-december-1830-r1184349, accessed 23 April 2024.