This is one of the great series of works in which Turner depicted Norham Castle, on the Tweed in Northumberland. He had first visited Norham in 1797, drawing two pencil sketches in the 'North of England' sketchbook (Turner Bequest XXXIV f. 57 and XXVII-U; see D. Hill, Turner in the North, New Haven and London, 1996, pp. 88, 191, illustrated pls. 124 and 125). This visit led to two finished watercolours, one exhibited as Norham Castle on the Tweed, Summer's Morn at the Royal Academy in 1798 (Wilton, op. cit., pp. 324-5, nos. 225 and 226; Hill, op. cit., pp. 89-90, illustrated in colour pls. 129 and 130); these were based on two colour studies (TB L-B and C; Hill op. cit., illustrated in colour pls. 127 and 128). A further finished watercolour of c.1800 shows a different view (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Wilton, op. cit., pp. 330-1, no. 277 illustrated). Turner included the subject in his Liber Studiorum in about 1806-7 in about 1806-7 (p. 57; see G. Forrester, Turner's Drawing Book: The Liber Studiorum, exhibition catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, 1996, pp. 1189). He returned to his usual, frontal view of the subject in a watercolour of circa 1824 for the Rivers of England series of engravings (TB CCVIII-O: Wilton, op. cit, p.385, no.736, illustrated in colour pl. 175; Hill, op. cit., p. 92, illustrated pl. 131). Finally, almost as the summation of his career, though never completed for exhibition to the public, came the unfinished oil painting of 1845-50 in the Tate Gallery, one of a series of such oils based on compositions used in the Liber Studiorum (M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, second edition, 1984, pp. 301-2, no. 512, illustrated in colour pl. 514; Hill, op. cit., p. 92, illustrated in colour pl. 132).
Two of Turner's views of Norham Castle, including this one, were commissioned as illustrations to Sir Walter Scott. In about 1822 Walter Fawkes asked him to do six watercolours illustrating Scott, Byron and Thomas Moore; one illustrated the line 'Day sat on Norham's Castled steep' from Scott's Marmion (Wilton, op. cit., pp. 424-5, nos. 1052-7; Norham Castle is no. 1052). In 1831, in connection with Robert Cadell's commission for Turner to follow up his illustrations to Scott's Poetical Works with a series for the Miscellaneous Prose, Turner revisited Norham; there are three small views in the Abbotsford sketchbook (TB CCLXVII f. 59 verso; see Finley, op. cit., p. 129, illustrated pl. 55). The finished watercolour here under discussion was engraved by William Miller in 1834 as the frontispiece to volume VII of 'Provincial Antiquities' and illustrated the first chapter on 'The Border Antiquities'. In his introduction Scott, referring to Norham Castle, had written of the Romantic associations of such fortifications 'left to moulder in massive ruins; fields where the memory of ancient battles still lives among the descendants of those by whom they were fought or witnessed'.