Lot 17
  • 17

Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A. 1775-1851

250,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
  • Flint Castle, North Wales
  • signed l.l.: JMWT RA
  • watercolour over pencil heightened with touches of bodycolour, stopping out and scratching out


Sam Mendel of Manley Hall before 1875;
John Knowles, his sale at Christie’s, 19th May 1877, lot 96;
John Knowles, his sale at Christie’s, 3rd June 1880, lot 486;
James Barrow, his Executor’s Sale at Samuel Lever Exchange Gallery, Liverpool, 17th May 1918, lot 188, bt.King;
J.M.Harvey (died 1953) thence to his widow;
Mrs Nuttall, from whom bought by Agnew’s, 1974;
Richard Green;
M.M.Yamanaka, Tokyo


Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, Turner, 16th August-5th October 1986, no.76;
Kyoto, Municipal Museum of Art, Turner, 14th October-16th November 1986, no.76


Sir Walter Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p.253;
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W.Turner His Life and Work, 1979, pp.403-404, no.885 (illus);
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales, 1983, p.152, no.89 (illus);
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Watercolour Explorations 1810-1842, 1997, p.43

Catalogue Note

This serene watercolour was drawn in the early 1830’s.  Flint Castle can be seen on the horizon silhouetted against a splendid sunrise. A mounted figure with a group of horses approaches a fishing boat anchored in the shallows and beyond another sailing boat unfurls its sails and prepares for the day ahead. Two early morning shrimpers wade through the shallows and in the foreground a fisherman sits mending his nets and admiring the view beyond.

After his first visit to Flint Castle in 1792 Turner drew two watercolours of the ruin (see Andrew Wilton, J.M.W.Turner His Life and Work, 1979, nos.97 and 108), panoramas that were engraved in 1795 and 1797 (see W.G.Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W.Turner,R.A., 1913, nos. 21 and 11). He returned to the area in 1799 and there is a drawing of Flint Castle and the Dee Estuary in the Dolbarden Sketchbook (TB XLVI 99). During the 1820’s he visited the Castle again and made a view that was reproduced in mezzotint for his Liber Studiorum. In circa 1830 he made a colour study of a sunset or sunrise and this is thought to relate to the present richly coloured watercolour (TB CCLXIV a 143 - D35986) which he executed soon afterwards. In both the colour study and the present work the rays of the sun draw the viewer’s eye outwards towards the edge of the image, mirroring the effect of peripheral vision - a device repeated in many of his later watercolours. A much smaller drawing in the colour Beginnings group, might also represent Flint Castle, but depicts the view looking south eastwards (TB CCLXIII 317). A second version of the castle was made in 1835 and engraved for his ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales.’ It is now in the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff (see Andrew Wilton, J.M.W.Turner His Life and Work, 1979, no.868).

Turner’s 1835 watercolour of Flint Castle compares closely to the present work. The compositions are very similar and so also is the dramatic colouring and attention to detail. John Ruskin once owned the later watercolour and wrote of it as ‘the loveliest piece of pure-watercolour painting in my whole collection; nor do I know anything elsewhere that can compare, and little that can rival, the play of light on the sea surface and the infinite purity of colour in the ripples of it as they near the sand./The violent green and orange in the near figures are in themselves painful; but they are of invaluable use in throwing all the green in the water, and warm colours of the castle and sky, into arial distance; and the effect of the light would have been impossible without them’ (John Ruskin, Notes, 1904, ed., vol. X111, p.442). Ruskin’s enraptured comments and his description of the ‘play of light’ and ‘the purity of colour’ of Turner’s 1835 view of the castle might be equally applied to the present work.

Eric Shanes has suggested that the present watercolour demonstrates a greater degree of naturalism than the view which Turner executed in 1835 (see Eric Shanes, Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales, 1983, p.152). It also shows the technical mastery the artist had achieved by the 1830’s. Here, he has used a sponge or a cloth to draw out the colour from the paper and create the sun, its rays across the sky and reflection off the water. The white tones of the horses, items of clothing and discarded fish in the lower left corner also appear to have been made by the removal of the underlying colour to reveal the white of the paper beneath. Some of the other whites, including the ripples on the water, were scratched out, either by Turner’s thumbnail (which he kept sharpened for the purpose) or perhaps the end of his brush. Turner has also concentrated on detail in order to create a heightened sense of naturalism in this watercolour. The touches of colour in the sky are made up of minute hatchings and stipplings and there is even a thumbprint of blue paint on the castle adding extra texture and interest.  These details and the depiction of the castle in the middle distance are, however, overwhelmed by the main feature of this watercolour, the reds, yellows and blues in the vast dome-like sky capturing the first moments of dawn.