Joseph Mallord William Turner An Old Woman in a Cottage Kitchen (‘Internal of a Cottage, a Study at Ely’) 1795–6

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Artwork details

An Old Woman in a Cottage Kitchen (‘Internal of a Cottage, a Study at Ely’)
Date 1795–6
Medium Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions Support: 204 x 270 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XXIX X
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

The identification of this work with that exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 is generally accepted; no other plausible candidate is known. Assuming that the identification with the ‘study at Ely’ is correct, the subject must have been noted during the 1794 tour; as no preparatory sketch is known, it is likely that this watercolour was worked up over an outline drawing made on the spot. It was thought in the nineteenth century to show Turner’s mother in the kitchen at Maiden Lane, Covent Garden.
As an exercise in chiaroscuro this marks a significant development in Turner’s technical progress. He had already essayed a firelit interior at the age of fifteen or thereabouts (Tate D00187; Turner Bequest XVII L); as one would expect, this shows increased subtlety and flexibility in the relation between outline and tone; and the subject forms a kind of prelude to the sequence of dramatically lit ecclesiastical interiors that he was to produce in the next few years. Indeed, two of the finest of these, showing the interior of the Octagon at Ely Cathedral (private collection; Aberdeen Art Gallery)1 were based on a pencil drawing made on this Midland tour (Tate D00369; Turner Bequest XXII P).
Wilton 1979, p.321 nos.194 and 195 respectively, reproduced.
Technical notes:
Like the view of Llangollen, Tate D00861 (Turner Bequest XXXII E), this work was mounted on thin card washed with grey; this has now been trimmed away to a width of only about 5 mm. Turner touched it at top and bottom with dark colour, presumably to fill the frame he had put the drawing into for exhibition.
Blank; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram; inscribed in a later hand ‘10’.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012