Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland, c.1828

Manchester City Art Gallery (1917-110)

Watercolour, 291 x 419 (sight), 11 x 16 1/2 ins

Turner catalogues: Wilton0814; tdb0941

This is a medium-sized, finished studio watercolour of a coastal scene with waves breaking onshore from the sea to the right. In the middle distance is a sunlit castle on a low headland. A large round-towered gateway dominates the centre of its curtain wall, and there are angle towers both left and right. A storm is passing in the left distance, whilst the sky brightens with sunlight from the right. On the beach in the left foreground a coasting vessel with a broken mast, presumably driven ashore in the storm, is being unloaded by a crowd of figures. A figure in dark hat and uniform, presumably a customs official, mounted on a white horse, supervises events.

This watercolour was painted c.1828 and was engraved by Robert Brandard in 1829 for publication in the series ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’. The series was initiated by Charles Heath in 1824 and in all ninety-six subjects were published in sets of four between 1827 and 1838. The engraving bears the publication date of March 15 1830, and was issued in Part 8, no.2.

Dunstansborough Castle, Northumberland 1830 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Purchased 1988
Photograph by Professor David Hill

The subject is the main gateway of Dunstanburgh Castle as seen from the shore to the south. The time of day is morning, with the sun recently risen over the sea to the right. Dunstanburgh Castle stands on the Northumberland coast, a mile or so from the fishing village of Craster.

Scroll map to zoom in and out:

Turner first visited the site in 1797 and sketched this view in his North of England sketchbook (Tate D00952; Turner Bequest XXXIV 45). The shoreline here is rockier than appears in the present watercolour.

Dunstanburgh Castle from the South 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

The 1797 sketch provided the direct basis of a monochrome study (Tate D01114; Turner Bequest XXXVI T) probably made as the basis of an oil painting of 1797-8 at Dunedin Art Gallery, New Zealand, and a watercolour of c.1798 at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle. All these, together with the present work, record the view from exactly the same viewpoint, although the earlier works depict the shore more characteristically.

There is, in addition a series of studies and finished works, which all show a similar aspect, but as seen from a nearer viewpoint to the castle, and further right, from where the Lilburn Tower (the taller tower to the left seen in the present composition) is now seen to the right of the gatehouse, and a fisherman’s cottage has been brought into view in the left foreground. The original sketch for this appears lost but there are monochrome and colour studies of this view (Tate D01113 and D00890; Turner Bequest XXXVI S and XXXIII S). These paved the way for a major oil painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798, no.322, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, a slightly later watercolour of c.1802, at Wallington Hall, Northumberland (National Trust) and a sepia watercolour composition (Tate D08118, Turner Bequest CXVI Q), which provided the basis of a mezzotint published in the series of Turner’s Liber Studiorum on 10 June 1808.

The culminating point of Turner’s musings on Dunstanburgh is a splendid oil composition, again treating the view from the south, but elaborating freely on the theme, in an oil painting at the Yale Center for British Art New Haven exhibited at the RA in 1834 no.199 under the title ‘Wreckers – Coast of Northumberland, with a Steam-Boat assisting a Ship off Shore’.

Armstrong 1902 records a now untraced large watercolour of Dunstanburgh, 17 ½ x 24 ins, but we do not know what was the composition of that.


T Tomkinson;

Thomas Birchall, (1857);

H A J Munro of Novar (d.1865), to

Christie’s 11 May 1867 no.172 as ‘Dunstanborough Castle. Equally fine [as tdb 2093]’, bt for 510 gns [the highest sum by some margin for any of the Turner watercolours] by

John Heugh, to

Christie’s 24 April 1874 (94), bt.


Sir William Armstrong;

W A Armstrong (1902) to

Christie’s 24 June 1910 (38), bt.


James Blair, by whom bequeathed to

Manchester City Art Gallery, 1917.

Exhibition history:

Exh: M.B.G. 1833; 

Exh MAT 1857 no.343 as ‘Dunstanborough Castle’;

Exh: Castle Museum, Nottingham, Ruins in British Romantic Art from Wilson to Turner, 29 May – 24 July, 1988 – Exh: ‘Turner’ at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra  16 March – 10 June 1996;  Exh: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 27 June – 10 September, 1996;

Published and documentary references:

Armstrong 1902, p250 as “Dunstanborough”. Circa 1828. [W A Watson-Armstrong, Esq., ex Lord Armstrong. Ex Heugh (R.A. 1873), Novar and Birchall (M 1857) Collections. Chr. 1867, Munro; 1874, Heugh. Moon’s Gallery, 1833 (T Tomkinson).]  11 x 16 1/2. Wrecked fishing-boat on sand by breaking waves. Man on white horse and crowd of women. Castle on hill in morning light occupies mid-distance. Engraved by R Brandard, 1830, “England and Wales” Mr H H Worthington has a drawing of Dunstanburgh, 17 1/2 x 24;  

Wilton 1979, No.814 as ‘Dunstanborough Castle, Northumberland, c.1828’, repro b/w;

Gage 1980 p.237 EH list;

Clifford 1982 (15);

Turner Studies: 1987, 7 (2) 34; 

Turner Studies: 1988, 8 (2) 6, 62;

Haidee Jackson, Ruins in British Romantic Art , 1988, pp.72, 60 illustrations, 13 in colour;

Michael Lloyd, ‘Turner’ 1996, pg.46, repro colour; 

Hill 1996 p.72, colour;

Turner worldwide, 2005 as ‘ Dunstanborough Castle  circa 1798-1800, Bodycolour, pencil, watercolour and scratching out on paper support: 349 x 483 mm’, repr colour;

DH; 12 March 2019

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