Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), ‘A Shipwreck off Hastings ’, c.1825. Watercolour, 19 x 28cm. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

DUBLIN.- In keeping with annual tradition, the Vaughan bequest of watercolours by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) will go on display in the National Gallery of Ireland from 1-31 January 2009.

The 31 watercolours of the Vaughan Bequest on show span the artist's career and include a number of examples from his Continental tours, which depict stunning locations like The Doge's Palace in Venice, Lake Lucerne, and the fortresses at Bellinzona in Switzerland. Some of his most striking works in watercolour were produced during the 1840's, and show how the artist magically captured the effects of light.

This year the Turner exhibition will be shown alongside a display of 17th 18th and 19th century silhouettes and miniatures which were bequeathed to the Gallery in 1985 by the notable Belfast collector and historian, Mary A. McNeill. This collection includes exquisite portraits by Richard Cross, Henry Bone, and Augustin Édouart.

Henry Vaughan was born in Southwark, London in 1809. His father, a wealthy hat manufacturer, died in 1828 leaving his son a great fortune. Henry became a cultivated collector of art, gradually building up a magnificent collection. He patronised living artists and was described by Ruskin as 'a great Turner man'. When he died unmarried in 1899 aged 90, his art collection was distributed among the major public museums. The bulk of his outstanding group of Turner watercolours was divided between the National Gallery of Scotland (38) and the National Gallery of Ireland (31).

The Vaughan Bequest of Turner watercolours were bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1900. Then Director of the Gallery, Walter Armstrong paid tribute to Henry Vaughan in his book on Turner (1902). He wrote:

"In making his collection he (Vaughan) took the greatest care to confine himself to drawings in which he could see no fading. Once his, they were religiously protected from the sun … so far did he carry his solicitude, that in his will he stipulated that the collections left to the National Galleries of Scotland and Ireland should be publicly exhibited for only one month in each year, and that month January, perhaps the most sunless of the whole twelve."

Armstrong goes on ominously: 'a century hence Turner as a colourist will only survive in things which once formed part of the Vaughan collection, unless those drawings which are still uninjured are put out of reach while there is still time'.

The Vaughan Bequest in the National Gallery constitutes 31 watercolours, and the Gallery has added to the collection over the years. Today, the collection comprises a total of 36 exquisite watercolours by Turner, which remain in pristine condition. The National Gallery of Ireland continues to adhere to the conditions of the Vaughan bequest, and so every January the Gallery puts on display these luminous watercolours which continue to be a major attraction in the Gallery's exhibition calendar.


Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), ‘The Bay of Uri , Lake Lucerne , Switzerland , from above Brunnen’, 1841. Pencil and watercolour, 23 x 29.2cm. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland