Minster Church, Isle of Thanet, Kent, c.1788

Pen, ink and watercolour on paper, 12 x 16 3/4 ins, 305 x 426 mm

Inscribed in watercolour over the porch ‘1574’

Private Collection

Turner catalogues: Wilton no.3; tdb149

This is one of a series of four watercolours, two of Margate and two of Minster, all sharing the same provenance, evidently having been gifted by Turner’s mother to a Jane Hunt of London who married James Taylor of Bakewell, Derbyshire, and descending in her family to the present day. The group probably constitutes the earliest work of Turner outside the Turner Bequest.

Shanes 2016 p.8 ff discusses the significance of Turner’s residence at Margate c.1788. There are two watercolour of Margate but no-one seems to have considered the context for this excursion to Minster.

The church lies about six miles south-west of Margate, so is relatively nearby, but there seems to be some occasion implied. Perhaps Turner’s connections in Margate had some association with the village.

Wilton 1979 appears to be the first to have identified the subject. Turner records the north-east aspect of St Mary’s Church, Minster in Thanet. Randy Tchen has a beautiful comparative photo on Google Earth:

Photo by Randy Tchen, image feed from Google Earth

and there is a good architectural history and assessment of the church by Tim Tatton-Brown, who relates that the church was heavily restored 1862-3.

Comparison of the present structure with the watercolour reveals numerous differences. All the original early English lancets along the north side appear to have been lengthened. The north porch, evidently the original main entrance, was removed. New traceried windows have been inserted in the west part of the north aisle.

Patrick Youngblood suggested in 1984 that the series was painted direct from nature, and the absence of any separate pencil sketches from this time, together with the specificity of architectural detail, seems to suggest that very strongly.

We have already noted the particularity of the shadows in the companion watercolour of St John’s Church, Margate. Here the specificity is potentially still more remarkable. Given that this is the north-facing range of the church, it is surprising that the sun is shining on this side at all. In fact the church is oriented very slightly south of west, so the sun does shine obliquely across this front from the north-west on midsummer evenings. Given the consideration given to the angle of light at St John’s, it seems very likely that Turner was developing the idea here to an extreme. It would be interesting to investigate the truth of his effect.

Turner also painted a companion watercolour of Minster showing the church from the same angle, but from a more distant viewpoint.


Mary Turner (the artist’s mother), by whom given to
Jane Taylor (nee Hunt), of Bakewell, Derbyshire and by descent to present owner
Private Collection U.K (1979, 2016).

Publications and exhibitions:

Wilton 1979 no.3, as ‘Minster Church, Isle of Thanet, ?1784’, repr b/w,
P. Youngblood, ‘The Stones of Oxford’ in Turner Studies: 1984, 3(2), pp.5 and 20 n.33;
Turner Worldwide 2004, where dated c.1784, repr colour;
Shanes 2016, p.13 repr colour as ‘Minster Church, Isle of Thanet, Kent, 1788’

DH 20 August 2020

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