Dunstanburgh Castle from the South, Northumberland [Dunstanborough], c.1798

Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery

Bodycolour, pencil, watercolour and scratching out on paper support: 349 x 483 mm, 13 3/4 x 19 ins

Turner catalogues: Wilton0284; tdb0023

This is a substantial, finished studio watercolour of a rocky coastal scene with waves breaking onshore from the right. In the foreground are rearing, jagged rocks, beyond which a three masted fishing boat makes its way to shore. In the middle distance is a castle on a headland. A large round-towered gateway in shade dominates the centre of its curtain wall, and there are angle towers both left and right. Cumulus clouds billow up behind in a generally clear sky, and cool sunlight filters in from the right.

This watercolour was painted c.1798. The context is unknown. It is a substantial work, but a little smaller than the majority of his exhibited watercolours at this date, which were generally 24 x 36 ins (610 x 914 mm). It was presumably commissioned by a patron, but the provenance this far offers no clue as to who this might have been.

The subject is the gateway range of Dunstanburgh Castle as seen from the shore to the south. The time of day is morning, with the sunlight filtering in over the sea to the right. Dunstanburgh Castle stands on the Northumberland coast, a mile or so from the fishing village of Craster. Turner first visited the site in 1797 and sketched this view in his North of England sketchbook (Tate D00952; Turner Bequest XXXIV 45).

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 then the present watercolour. Turner returned to this subject.1828 for a watercolour at Manchester City Art Gallery, painted for his series of engravings ‘Picturesque Views in England and Wales’. All these, together with the present work, record the view from exactly the same viewpoint, although the later work softens the rocky character of the shore.

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


Col. A T Birchall (1857) to

Agnew’s Nov 1870 to

Sir Joseph Heron, town clerk of Manchester, to

Christie’s 9 June1890 (85) bt

Agnew’s and sold 1891 for £369.10.0 to

Sir Donald Currie (1902, 1907, 1909) d.1909 and by descent to his daughter,

Mrs Mirrielees and thence (1951) to his grand daughter

Mrs Craven to

Agnew’s 1967 and sold by them 1968 to

N E Hurst to his widow to

Phillips’ 22 March1982 bt

Agnew’s (1982) and thence to

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle;


Exh Manchester Art Treasures,1857 (343);

Exh Agnew’s Centenary exhibition, 1951 (6);

Exh  Agnew’s, Master Paintings 1982,  No. 42 as ‘Dunstanborough Castle’, repr b/w;

Exh Canberra 1996 repr p.43 colour;

Exh Turner in North, 1996-7 (46)

Published and documentary references:

Armstrong 1902 p.250 as ‘Dunstanborough. Circa 1802 [Sir Donald Currie, GCMG, ex Heron and Birchall collections. Chr 1890, Heron’ 14 x 19 Fantastic rocks in F. Rough arm of sea in mid-distance. Beyond, the long line of Castle on low, rocky promontory’;

Currie 1907 valuation ‘Dunstanborough £450’;

Currie inventory 1909 in the front drawing room as ‘Dunstanborough. Fantastic rocks in the foreground: the castle on a rocky promontory behind. 13 3/4 x 19 ins. £200 [considerably less than he paid]’;

Wilton 1979 no. 284 as ‘Dunstanburgh Castle from South’, repr;

Turner Studies: 1982, 2 (1) 59, 60;

Hartley 1984 p.4 where mistaken;

Turner Studies, 1988, 8 (2) 5;

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;

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