Lot 105. Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (London 1775-1851), Norham Castle: Sunrise. signed 'Turner' (lower left), pencil and watercolour heightened with gum arabic and with scratching out, 20 3/8 x 29 ¼ in. (51.7 x 74.4 cm.). Estimate: £500,000-800,000 (USD 636,500 - USD 1,018,400) © Christie's Images Ltd 2017
Provenance: with Samson Wertheimer, from whom purchased by
Agnew's, London, 8 June 1885, where purchased by
Daniel Thwaites, 22 April 1886, and by descent to
The Dowager Lady Alvingham; Christie's, London, 14 July 1987, lot 190.
with Agnew's, London, where purchased by the present owner.
From The Collection of the Late Professor Luke Herrmann
Literature: W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A., London, 1862, I, p. 196, II, p. 368, no. 43.
Sir W. Armstrong, Turner, 1902, p. 268.
A.J. Finberg, A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, 1909, p. 72.
A.J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, revised edn., Oxford, 1961, p. 49.
A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg, 1979, p. 324, no. 225.
D. Hill, ‘A Taste for the Arts: Turner and the Patronage of Edward Lascelles of Harewood House' (2), Turner Studies, 5, no. 1, summer 1985, pp. 36-40.
D. Hill, Turner in the North, New Haven and London, 1996, pp. 88-93.
M. Butlin and A. Kennedy in The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, 2001, pp. 201-2.
E. Shanes, Young Mr Turner. The First Forty Years: 1775-1815, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 154, fig. 187.
Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition, 1798, no. 353.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works of the Old Masters, 1887.
London, Guildhall, 1899, no. 118.
London, Agnew's, 1913, no. 29.
London, Royal Academy, Turner 1775-1851, 1974-5, no. 640.
Note: The handful of haunting and atmospheric images Turner produced of Norham Castle between 1797 and the mid-1840s remain among his most celebrated works, culminating in the astounding late, unfinished oil painting at Tate Britain. This repeated castle motif reveals Turner’s lifelong affection for a subject that had inspired a boldly experimental response, effectively liberating him as a landscape painter. Simultaneously, the engagement with Norham had earned the fledgling painter critical recognition and financial success. It was for this reason that Turner apparently doffed his top hat to the castle, as a mark of grateful respect, when revisiting it in 1831.
This important large watercolour marks the start of this lifelong connection with Norham. It was first exhibited in London at the Royal Academy in 1798, less than a year after Turner had dragged himself out of bed at his overnight lodgings on the Scottish border to witness the dazzling sunrise above the castle from the banks of the Tweed. All the individual elements recorded here – the castle, the riverside bothy, and the cows drinking– recur in each of Turner’s depictions of Norham, right through to their abstracted manifestations in the Tate picture.
As in many of his early works, it was Turner’s ability to instil with such precision the sensations of natural effects that won commendation. Here he re-created the effect of a line of smoke suddenly rising as it meets a different environment at a bend in the river. As well as this kind of observation, Turner’s realisation of the sunrise was indebted to the poetic influence of James Thomson (author of ‘Rule Britannia’), who had lived in the Tweed valley, and whose evocative poem The Seasons was an inspirational touchstone for many artists. In addition to the topographical and temporal details in his title, Turner appended some lines of Thomson’s poem in the exhibition catalogue, using the text to complement his own imagery.
'But Yonder comes the powerful King of Day
Rejoicing in the East: the lessening cloud,
The Kindling azure, and the mountain's brow
Illumin'd-his near approach betoken glad'
Although the young Turner had hitherto won respect for his painstaking depictions of architectural subjects, at Norham the picturesque ruins are relegated to the background and the service of the sunlight effect. This enabled Turner to create a bold silhouette, but also to penetrate it with the ‘fluid gold’ that Thomson described in his poem. To achieve the skilfully nuanced transition of colours in the sky, and at the tops of the still shaded riverbanks, Turner initially plotted his composition in two full size studies (Tate Britain). These demonstrate that his aim was to introduce areas of brilliant light - on the highest points and in the reflections - to suggest the way the advancing golden morning light will eventually infuse and colour the landscape. To intensify the effect he prepared this very large piece of paper with successive diluted washes on both the rectoand verso of the sheet.
The response to this highly innovative, yet richly bucolic and symbolic scene in 1798 was enthusiastic. Collectors evidently jostled over the picture, but it remains unclear who actually became its first owner. Soon afterwards other versions were commissioned, including one acquired by Edward Lascelles of Harewood House (now at The Higgins Art Gallery and Museum, Bedford). The ambition implicit in Norham Castle on the Tweedand Turner’s other watercolour exhibits of 1798 provoked the jealousy of his peers, including that of Benjamin West, P.R.A., who described these works in rather negative fashion as ‘manner’d’. But more generally the art press praised the striking effects realised in the watercolours, often singling out Norham: ‘This is a work upon which we could rivet our eyes for hours and not experience satiety. It is one of those few pictures which charm the more, the oftener they are inspected’ (Whitehall Evening Post, 2 June 1798). It was even declared that the 1798 watercolours surpassed the works painted in oils that Turner displayed that year (including the famous Lake District views now at Tate Britain). The St James’s Chronicle, for example, was of the opinion that Norham had ‘the force and harmony of oil painting. It is charmingly finished and the effect is bold and natural. In short, we think it the best Landscape in the present Exhibition.’
This magnificent watercolour was in the collection of Luke Herrmann, an expert on British Art and a leading authority on the life and work of J.M.W. Turner. He was the author of several seminal books on the artist, including Ruskin and Turner, 1968, Turner Paintings, Watercolours, Prints and Drawings, 1975, a biography Turner, 1986, Turner Prints, 1990, which led a to revival of interest in the artist’s engravings and placed them in the context of the artist's oeuvre, with Colin Harrison Turner's Watercolours, Drawings and Paintings (Ashmolean Handbooks), 2000 and with Evelyn Joll and Martin Butlin the comprehensive Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, 2001. He was vice-president of the Turner Society, contributing numerous articles and edited the Walpole Society during the 1990s. He also published on Paul and Thomas Sandby, 1986. Amongst other bequests, he gifted 34 works of art to the nation in 2002, including works by Stubbs, Bonington, Thornhill, J.F. Lewis and J.R. Cozens, largely inherited from his colleague and mentor Sir Bruce Ingram.
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry, and to Professor David Hill for confirming that this is the version of the watercolour exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798.
Christie's. Old Master & British Drawings & Watercolours, 5 July 2017, London, King Street