Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Church and Village seen from a Riverside Footpath: ?Benson


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCV 13

Technique and condition

This composition was initially roughly sketched in pencil, on off-white wove paper in a sketchbook. Surface dirt is evident on many of its companion sheets, there are some tidemarks where water was spilled, and Turner’s fingerprints are clearly visible on most sheets, in different colours in both oil and watercolour paint, and on one or two in chalk and charcoal dust. Some of the fingerprints obviously relate to turning a page in a sketchbook by gripping the edge of a page with messy fingers, and they might have landed on the pages long after the initial sketches were made. Even by Turner’s studio standards – and there are many accounts of its untidiness as a practical working space – the book has been well-used and is unusually stained.
Some sheets also have grey and brown specks in the paper caused by metallic residues (probably copper) from paper production. This is untypical of Turner’s papers, which are generally very uniform in colour: such a feature could be used to link other images done on the same batch of paper.
This is one of the few images in the book worked up in watercolour, and it is in better condition than the pencil-only pages. The sky was not completed last as was Turner’s usual practice, since the blue washes applied to dry paper have been overlain by the tallest tree on the right. In fact he began by creating a partly blue sky, added the grey clouds, then coloured the line of buildings in the middle ground, and worked the foreground last. Washes of pale mixed grey similarly applied to dry paper form the clouds, the lighter areas of sky being formed instantly by unpainted areas of white paper. The buildings were painted with the same mixture of a black pigment and Mars red (a manufactured earth pigment of a brighter colour than the natural products) used for the darker clouds. The foreground greens are made from mixtures of blue and yellow or brown earth pigments, and in places the colour was stirred around on the paper with Turner’s fingers as well as a brush, leaving his fingerprints visible. The path was created by leaving blank patches of paper. Blue added to the red and black mixture used for the buildings was used to make the water, and then to add colour to the falling ground below the buildings.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

This was a left-hand page from the sketchbook. Finberg’s suggested subject was presumably based on comparison with the drawing of Benson from the sketchbook which he listed next as his ‘page 14’ (Tate D05918; Turner Bequest XCV 14), and also perhaps on the form of the church tower which is similar to Benson’s. While retaining Finberg’s title, Upstone states that ‘Wallingford church rises against the skyline’ and that a large building, perhaps a ruin, to its left is Wallingford Castle. However, neither of Wallingford’s churches have towers like this and the castle had been demolished two centuries earlier. Unconvinced by Finberg’s putative title, Hill lists the view as unidentified, but to the present writer it seems quite possible that it is taken from near the weir at Benson, with St Helen’s Church in the distance.
There are sluices and an eel trap on the river. Strong sunlight is indicated from the left and falls sharply on the posts of the sluice and wooden planks of a footbridge on the right, its glare indicated by leaving the white paper bare of wash.
Turner’s fingerprints are widely present here.
Blank. Inscribed in pencil ‘20’.

David Blayney Brown
February 2009

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