Minster Group: an introduction

This is a group of four watercolours, two of subjects in Margate, and another two views at Minster, a few miles inland. Turner is thought to have attended school in Margate at the beginning of his teenage years.

The group is undoubtedly juvenile work. The colouring is rather thin and the drawing slightly wobbly and I know of no extended discussion. They were unpublished until Wilton’s catalogue in 1979, and have only recently appeared in colour in Eric Shanes’s book ‘Young Mr Turner’ of 2016.

No-one seems ever to have written about them in relation to their subjects. When one does, consider them in direct relation to their motifs, however, they rather appear to blossom in quality.

Patrick Youngblood made the suggestion as long ago as 1984 that they might have been painted from nature, and considering them afresh this does indeed seem to be the case.

Anyone familiar with my version of Turner will understand that this pleases me greatly! It is doubly a surprise to find him painting from nature right from the beginning. Although sublime phenomenal effect is a little way off in his career [but in truth only a few years away] here is something equally characteristic, but frequently dismissed by those persuaded that a poet should have no interest in reality: Here is already a concern to interrogate and understand what is actually there, and to build significance on that basis. Here it is a simple as the forms of tombstones in a graveyard, a bead on a church on a distant promontory, or a shadow falling obliquely from a roofline. And through such incidental things, the sublime seeps. It is always whispering faintly. Better to be able to hear it whispering as well as when it roars.

DH 19 August 2020

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