Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Party of Figures among Trees by the River Thames; Studies of Billowing Sails

1823–4

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 162 x 98 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D40965

Catalogue entry

The rapid notations of sails were perhaps made in the Pool of London on the River Thames below Old London Bridge, the locale for most of the sketches in this book; see the Introduction.
With the page turned vertically, in the outer quarter is a scene of figures among trees, perhaps above a river bank with small boats. Whether observed in reality or from imagination, the scene is labelled an ‘English Fete Champetre’. This evokes the Old Master fête champêtre genre of graceful outdoor gatherings, perhaps associated most in Turner’s mind with the work of the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721),1 whose special variation, the fancy-dress fête galante, was echoed in the major 1819 painting England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday (Tate N00502),2 which includes elegant figures in a sylvan riverside setting.
There are identified views around Richmond at the beginning of this sketchbook, and others at this end likely to be in the vicinity; again, see the Introduction, and also the ‘wood nymphs’ on folio 42 recto (D17907).

Matthew Imms
December 2014

1
See Michael Kitson, ‘Watteau, Jean-Antoine (1684–1721)’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.372–3.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.106–7 no.140, pl.145 (colour).

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