This artwork gives me hope: ‘Norham Castle, Sunrise’ (1845)

A pioneer of Romanticism, J. M. W. Turner is well known for his oil paintings of dramatic sea storms, boasting fiery colours that explored the sublime in nature like no one had before. Although Turner’s dramatic responses to nature are incredibly captivating, it is the serenity and bliss of Norham Castle, Sunrise (1845) that particularly appeals to me. In our current turmoil, it is a reminder of the beauty to be found in the world. 

I first came across Norham Castle, Sunrise when I was fifteen, on a school trip. Situated in the Turner collection of the Tate Britain, its juxtaposition with Fisherman at Sea or Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth were instantly apparent: the light was brighter; the colours were softer; the brushstrokes much more subdued. I returned to school to complete my GCSE in art with a new-found love for landscape painting and a much greater appreciation for Turner. In fact, Turner became the main inspiration for my own painting right up until I left sixth form. This particular artwork still remains one of my favourites to admire.

Turner’s flexibility with line and form perfectly mimics the rising sun. Each component and colour of the scene is masterfully blended into the next, resulting in a mystical, dream-like quality echoed across the canvas. The blending is so seamless that you could easily mistake the castle for a mountain or the land for a body of water. The vast amount of yellow light seemingly shining from the canvas adds to the ethereal tones of this painting. It is bright but not overpowering and flawlessly encapsulates the first light of a warm, sunny morning. 

There’s something comforting in the fact that, especially in the present period of uncertainty, nearly two centuries ago people could count on nature for peace and calm as we can now. I may not be able to go and visit the Tate to see this painting right now but, like Turner, I can take a walk outside and be just as inspired by the natural wonders of the world. Norham Castle, Sunrise radiates positivity and gives me hope that those long, happy summer days are just around the corner.

Norham Castle, Sunrise c.1845 Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775-1851

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Elizabeth Woor

May 2021
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