Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.


Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Paintings Evening Sale


Joseph Mallord William Turner R.A.
watercolour with scratching out and touches of bodycolour, on three sheets laminated, with two watermarks: BE & S/ 1827
505 by 705 mm., 20 by 27 ¾ in.
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The Reverend E. Coleridge, sold to Agnews 1859;
John Heugh of Manchester, his sale Christie's London, 28th April 1860, lot 203 bt. Pennell £525;
Joseph Gillott, the sale of his collection, Christie's, 4th May 1872, lot 514 £3,307;
John, 1st Earl of Dudley (1817-1885);
by descent to his son William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley (1867-1932);  
Cornelius Vanderbilt II;
by descent to the present owners


London, The Graphic Society, 1837;
Manchester City Art Gallery, Art Treasures, 1857, no. 331;
Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School, 1889, no.19



W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A., 1862, p.608;
E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, (ed), The Works of John Ruskin, (1903-12), vol 3 p.248, vol 12, p.385, vol 13, p.1;
Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 241;
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, 1979, p. 404, no. 895;
J. Chapel, 'The Turner Collector Joseph Gillott 1799-1872', Turner Studies, Vol. 6 (2), p. 46;
E. Joll, 'Turner at Dunstanborough 1797-1834', Turner Studies, Vol. 8 (2), p. 3;

Catalogue Note

Dating from the early 1830's, this most important watercolour has been hidden from the public eye since 1889 when it was last exhibited at the Royal Academy.  Before that it had made an extraordinary impact in both the exhibition gallery and the saleroom, the Graphic Society in 1837 describing it as `one of the finest water-colour drawings in the world' and when sold in 1872 for £3,307.00 it was a record price for any Turner watercolour; and remained so until 1908.

The view shows Bamborough Castle from the north.  Out to sea are formidable storm clouds and the mighty waves are breaking onto the shore producing columns of spray.  Below the castle a sail boat has struck the rocks.  Some sailors escaping in a rowing boat are heading towards two girls crouching in the foreground with a long boat hook.  Further along the coast many local people, `wreckers' among them, are watching and hauling remains from the sea, while beyond the castle a rocket pierces the dark sky alerting others to the imminent danger.  This scene depicts a disaster already underway, but its full extent is still to be established.  As Eric Shanes has suggested, 'in the supreme age of sail it was insufficient just to make the sea look suitably watery or wavy and the clouds visibly scud; cause and effect had to be demonstrated fully, and the more effectively the better'.[i]

Turner had originally drawn this view in 1797 (Fig. 1) and he returned to the subject in the late 1820s or early 1830s. Four broad wash colour beginnings are part of the Turner Bequest.[ii] The paper Turner used for these colour beginnings are sheets made in 1825, 1827 and 1828.  It is been suggested that a close comparison can also be made with Longships Lighthouse, Lands End  (J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) which like the present work was based upon a sketch of some time before, c. 1811 which can be seen in the Cornwall and Devon sketch book.[iii] In the Getty watercolour as in this, near the viewer waves crash onto the shore carrying the remains of a wreck, another vessel is just hitting the rocks in the middle distance, while torches pinpoint people on shore, completely helpless to rescue but well placed to gather debris.  The Longships Lighthouse watercolour was engraved in 1836 and has been tentatively dated to c.1834. The likely date for this work is c.1833.

Turner's interest in wreckers, local people who benefited from plundering cargo from grounded or broken ships, was strong in the 1830's.  In some pictures he included the new steam packets perhaps because they represented man's attempts to use modern invention to travel fast and through such forces of nature as rough seas, currents and gales, but in the present work the victims are in an ordinary sail boat which has already struck the rocks. The conclusion to this episode is beyond doubt. What remains to be established is just the number of survivors and the extent of the cargo and the timber which can be hauled ashore by wreckers.

By the 1830's regular steam packets were travelling up the east coast.  Travellers were able to see views such as Lindisfarne, Dunstanborough and Bamborough -  magnificent views that they probably only knew from recent engravings such as Daniell's Voyage Round Great Britain published in 1822.  Shipwrecks, particularly around the Farne Islands were commonplace.  Indeed in 1838, just one year after the Graphic Society exuberant appraisal of this watercolour, the steamer Forfarshire was wrecked, an event made famous by the rescue attempts of Grace Darling and her father.

When such dramatic events occurred, Bamborough Castle stood as an impregnable, safe haven and Turner has emphasised the peaceful nature of the massive building whilst the storm comes in off the sea. Francis Grose, writing in 1776, described the great tower at Bamborough having front walls of eleven foot depth, and nine foot on the inner three walls, and these details may have registered in Turner's mind when he drew the castle looking aloof and immune to the threat of any storm.[iv] Turner might also have considered the quote from Sir Walter Scott's, Marmion;

Thy tower proud Bamborough marked they there.
King Ida's castle huge and square,
From its tall rock looks grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown

In 1769, Pennant recorded the good work carried out at the castle by Dr Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland and a Trustee of the estate of Lord Crewe.[v]  The Crewe trustees commenced restoration of the castle in 1757 and whilst one part of the castle was made into a granary 'from whence corn is dispensed to the poor without distinction,' acknowledgement of the regular incidents at sea was made by other apartments being 'fitted up for shipwrecked sailors, and bedding is provided for thirty, should such a number happen to be cast on shore at the same time'.  Pennant also notes a cannon from a Dutch frigate, lost with all the crew below the castle in about 1709, which was raised to the top of the keep to be fired in case a ship was seen in distress.  By Turner's time rockets were used, as seen in the present work for the same purpose. 

As mentioned earlier, this watercolour has not been seen in public since it was exhibited as part of the Royal Academy exhibition Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School in 1889.  Its last appearance on the open market was the auction of the collection of Joseph Gillott (1799-1872) in 1872 when it surpassed any price for a British watercolour.

Joseph Gillott's remarkable life commenced in Sheffield where his father was a workman in the cutlery trade.  He followed suit and became an expert in forging and grinding knife blades, but his success and reputation came from pens.  He moved to Birmingham and in about 1830 became involved in the growing industry for making steel pens.  He developed a process for making the pens in a press and cutting slits to make the elasticity which was necessary.  At first he made them individually, but by 1859 he was employing over 400 staff.  Gillott amassed a vast fortune and collected pictures by Etty who was a friend, Turner, Linnell, Prout, Maclise and Roberts among many others.  His entire collection was sold in the 1870's for the staggering sum of £170,000.

The buyer of this watercolour on 4th May 1872 was William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley (1817-1883).  He was a trustee of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, London.  This watercolour was then owned by his son, William Humble Ward, the 2nd Earl of Dudley (1867-1932).  He became Secretary of the Board of Trade between 1895 and 1902, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1902 and then Governor General of Australia between 1908 and 1911.  It was between 1889 and 1902 that the watercolour passed into the hands of Cornelius Vanderbilt II following the sale of the Dudley's porcelain and fine art collection.  Turner's oil of Grand Canal of Venice (Metropolitan Museum, New York) was among the items sold to Vanderbilt in c.1890, and it is likely the present watercolour was also sold to them at the same time.

Further details and articles by David Hill and Peter Bower on this lot can be found in the single owner catalogue also produced by Sotheby's for the sale of this painting.

[i] E. Shanes, Turner's Human Landscapes, 1990, p.261.
[ii]  J.M.W.Turner, Colour-Beginning, Bamburgh Castle, TB CCLXIII 382; Colour-Beginning, Bamburgh Castle, TB CCLXIII 333; Colour-Beginning, Bamburgh Castle, Tate Britain, TB CCLXIII 334;  J.M.W.Turner, Colour-Beginning, Bamburgh Castle, TB CCCLXV 30           
[iii] J.M.W. Turner, Devon and Cornwall Sketchbook, TB ADD CXXVA, f.27.
[iv] F. Grose, Antiquities, 1785, p.56-58.
[v] See Tour in Scotland, 1771, 15th edition, p.44.

Old Master Paintings Evening Sale