'Turner here depicts the building from across the river Rother. On the left is The Red Lion Inn (now The Castle) which dates from the 15th Century. Some women are drying the washing in the sun. Note how Turner makes the gate-post to the right of the bridge repeat the curved line of the timber bridge-supports. The drawing has a wonderful richness of tone and colour and the distant castle seems dream-like in the early morning haze.' (Shanes, op. cit., p. 20.)
For an artist whose early career and success was as a painter of topographical watercolours, the actual castle, the ostensible subject of this work, is paradoxically relegated to the mist enveloped distance. This is a feature of a number of works of the early to mid 1810s, including the oil painting of Rosehill Park, Sussex, of 1810, painted for the same patron (see below), Lowther Park, Mid-Day and Lowther Park, Evening, both exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1810, Petworth, Dewy Morning, also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1810, and Somer Hill, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 (M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, 2nd ed., 1984, pp. 78-80, 82-3, 130, nos. 111-3, 116, 211, all illustrated). In addition many of the watercolours prepared for engraving by W.B. Cooke for the incomplete Views of Sussex, 1816-20 (see Wilton, op. cit., pp. 347-9, nos. 423-31) show a similar approach.
The present watercolour is one of a number of works owned by and mainly commissioned by 'Mad Jack' John Fuller, M.P. for Sussex and proprietor of Rosehill Park, Sussex. His first purchase seems to have been the oil painting known as Fishmarket on the Sands - Hastings, exhibited in Turner's own gallery in 1810 (Butlin and Joll, op. cit., pp. 73-4, no. 105, illustrated).
Fuller's accounts, in the Sussex County Records Office (see J. Brooke, 'Letter to the Editor', Turner Studies, X, no. 2, Winter 1990, p. 54) show three payments to Turner for £200, £220 and £191/7/-. on 26 July, 26 November 1810 and 8 July 1811; the first two probably represent payments for oil paintings including Fishmarket and Rosehill. Fuller went on to commission a series of watercolours of Sussex views, circa 1810-18, including a group to be published as Views in Sussex with engravings by W.B. Cooke; the publisher John Murray withdrew in 1818 after the publication of only five of the views, though the engravings of three further landscapes were at least begun including that of 'Bodiham Castle, Sussex' (as it was inscribed). These five prints were published as a projected Part I in 1820 with an emblematic frontispiece engraved by Turner himself with help from J.C. Allen (illustrated in Shanes, op. cit., p. 18) and a text by the painter Richard Reinagle. The Prospectus described the engravings as 'displaying with Truth and Effect the grand character of this picturesque part of the Coast.' The second part was to have shown 'Views in Hastings and its Vicinity'.
Turner also provided the watercolours for four large aquatints by J.C. Stadler, probably done before the Views of Sussex watercolours in 1810-11 (there are further accounts dating between 1810 and 1823 in the Fuller papers and also in Turner's Hastings and Finance sketchbooks of 1810, Turner Bequest, Tate Britain, CXI-59 and CXXII, but it is not possible to relate these to specific works.) (For the history of Fuller, Views in Sussex and related works see Wilton, op. cit, pp. 347-9, Shanes, op. cit., pp. 8-9, 13-15, 18-21, and L. Herrmann, Turner Prints, Oxford, 1990, pp. 90-94, 262, 274.)
In common with several of the series, the present composition is based on a drawing in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook in the Turner Bequest, Tate Britain (TB CXXXVII-6v and 7). Turner appears to have used this book on an earlier visit to Rosehill, 1810, in connection with a first small group of views for Fuller, mentioned by Farington (Diary, 21 April 1810).
Bodiam (sometimes 'Bodiham') Castle was established by a grant from King Richard II to Sir Edward Dalyngrydge, a former knight of King Edward III, in 1383. Ostensibly it was intended to defend East Sussex against French invasion during the Hundred Years' War but survived for 250 years without attack. Bodiam is a perfect example of a late medieval moated castle with impressive towers, formidable walls and a broad moat. The castle is still extant and is run by the National Trust.
We are grateful to Martin Butlin for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.