Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


8 From Camberwell ?c.1750-65

Watercolour over pencil with touches of gouache on laid paper 20 x 31.9 (7 7/8 x 12 1/2)
Inscribed on verso in pen and brown ink 'From Camberwell'


In addition to his imaginary, Italianate landscapes, Taverner painted more informal views of the English countryside. Some of these are large panoramic compositions, such as the view looking diagonally across the Thames near Richmond in the Opp? collection (T08239, fig.6). Although more naturalistic than his ideal landscapes, nevertheless many of these larger English scenes seem to retain a lingering classical sentiment. Others, however, such as this watercolour taken from Camberwell or a view by Taverner from Highgate in black and white chalks also in the Opp? collection, T08205, are much purer, direct renderings of the landscape the artist sees before him (the latter once belonged to the watercolourist Paul Sandby (no.25) who during his lifetime amassed at least twenty-five examples of Taverner's work; see Robertson 1985, p.14). A number of watercolours by Taverner of views behind Cavendish Square and in the environs of London were included in the sale of his effects in 1776 which took place four years after his death (Tavener 1994).

Indeed, Taverner's view from Camberwell has a breadth and a freedom of execution which, together with its naturalistic palette, suggests that it may well have been painted on the spot. There are few precedents in British watercolour for such expansive, unadorned transcripts of nature as these, with the exception perhaps of some of the landscape sketches produced by Dutch or Flemish artists working in England in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In particular, Peter Tillemans (1684-1734), who settled in England from 1708, painted a handful of landscape sketches which seem to anticipate those of Taverner (see Stainton and White 1987, p.244). We know from Vertue that Taverner was fully active as an artist by 1733 and it is possible that, as a young man, he was acquainted with Tillemans; certainly one writer has seen similarities in Taverner's early watercolours with Tillemans's own style of painting (Robertson 1985, p.14), and we also know that Taverner at one stage owned a battle painting by Tillemans (Tavener 1994). However, given that Taverner's work is so rarely dated and shows so little evidence of stylistic progression, it is very difficult to assess the likelihood and possible impact of artistic influences. Another possibility is that he was taught or at least greatly influenced by the landscape painter George Lambert (Einberg 1970, p.22). For Taverner would very likely have known Lambert through the theatre, his father William Taverner senior (c.1675-1731) being a playwright as well as a lawyer, whilst Lambert painted scenery for the theatre.

Anne Lyles

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.52 no.8, reproduced in colour p.53