Tower of London, c.1794

Pencil and watercolour, 70 x 115 mm,   2 3/4 x 4 1/2 ins, mounted in the artist’s original washline border.

Inscribed lower right, “Turner” and on label, ‘Tower of London by Turner RA/ presented by him to Flaxman the Sculptor and purchased at his sale’ and ‘Purchased at Grundy sale Oct/87 No.134’.

Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.

Turner catalogues: Wilton 103; tdb0001

This is a small studio watercolour, signed ‘Turner’ lower right, showing the view from a river with sailing ships left and right, to a screen of riverside buildings crowned by a large, square tower with lanterns at each angle.

Image courtesy of Clark Institute, Manton collection

It is one of sixteen similarly-sized watercolours, mostly now untraced, that Turner made about 1794 on commission for the London publishers Harrison & Co. They were published in The Pocket Magazine at intervals between 1795 and 1796. Various artists’ work was featured. This was the first by Turner and appeared in no.5 for December 1794, published in January 1795. This was only the third engraved landscape to be published thus far, following works by Edward Dayes and Paul Sandby in nos 2 and 3. Both were London subjects, Westminster Abbey and Woolwich,  which seems to suggest that Harrison presumed a predominantly metropolitan readership.

Photograph by David Hill

Turner’s subject is the Tower of London as seen from the river Thames slightly upstream of the Tower. Turner sketched the view in 1794 in a pencil drawing also now at the Clark Institute in Williamstown. It seems likely that Turner sketched the view especially for this watercolour. He was nineteen years old and living with his parents in nearby Covent Garden.

Google Earth Streetview: Tower of London from the Thames

The text of The Pocket Magazine gives an accompanying commentary. This is mostly a generic history of the Tower except for the final paragraph, which refers directly to some details of the image:

‘The large vessel moored in front of the Tower, as seen in the annexed view, and which is called the Nightingale tender, is stationed there chiefly for the immediate reception of impressed seamen, previous to their being sent to the respective ships for which they are destined. The barge, also moored in front, contains a fire-engine, kept in constant readiness.’

Photograph by David Hill

Turner painted a second version of the same view c.1825 (Private collection; Christie’s, 13 November, 1990, no. 118).

DH July 2020


The artist, by ?whom presented to
John Flaxman and so to his sale
Christie’s 10-11 April 1862;
Grundy to
Christie’s October 1881 or 1887 (134);
Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952) and by descent to his son
Sir John Witt (1907-1982);
Miss S Darbyshire-Robery to
Sotheby’s 19 March 1981, no.111, repr in colour where bt
Leger Galleries, by whom sold to
Sir Edwin Manton (2001) d.2005 and so bequeathed 2007 to
Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.

References and Exhibitions:

Engraved by T.Tagg dated I January 1795 for the Pocket Magazine, and issued in Vol.1, no.5 [for December 1794] opp. p.329.
England Delineated, 1804; re-issue of 1795 plate.
Rawlinson 1908, no.16.
Wilton 1979, No.103 as ‘Tower of London, c.1794’, untraced, not repr.;
Turner Studies, 1981: 1 (2) 55;
Exh: Leger Galleries, London, 1981;
Turner Studies, 1982, 2 (1) 59;
Yale photo archive (1990) as ‘Tower of London, 7 x 11.5 cm’, repr;
Wilton 2001 no.4 as ‘The Tower of London, c.1794’, repr colour;
The Clark online [accessed 30 June 2020] as ‘The Tower of London c.1794’, repr colour

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s