Joseph Mallord William Turner

Composition Study for ‘The Festival upon the Opening of the Vintage at Macon’; Study of a Detail of Baskets

c.1802–3

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk on paper
Dimensions
Support: 436 x 271 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D05018
Turner Bequest LXXXI 116

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, the main subject is continued on folio 60 recto opposite (D05019; Turner Bequest LXXXI 117), where there is also a smaller reprise of the whole design. There are a further three composition studies for the picture on folio 28 verso (D04956; Turner Bequest LXXXI 54).
Turner’s painting The Festival upon the Opening of the Vintage of Macon (Museums Sheffield)1 was shown at the Royal Academy in 1803, and bought from the artist by the Earl of Yarborough in the following year, as Turner’s note on this page indicates; it was added, like the other annotations, in 1805. There are no studies of Macon in any of the sketchbooks Turner used on his 1802 tour in Europe, and he may have derived his impression of the town, if not from memory, from an engraving. Nevertheless, it is carefully individualised as a place with its own distinctive features, such as the church tower seen between the trees at the right, or the Roman bridge over the river, elements that figure in the larger of these two drawings as well as in the finished canvas, which was one of the largest of Turner’s works to date.
These considerations make it hard to accept a proposal by James Hamilton that the artist intended his picture as a celebration of English scenery, depicting in reality not France but the famous view of the River Thames from Richmond Hill.2 It is, though, as Hamilton emphasises, primarily an essay in ‘Claudian’ landscape composition, and these sketches, especially the smaller of them, reinforce a sense that Turner was consciously seeking to emulate the French landscape painter Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682) here. His most likely source was the Landscape with Jacob and Laban (National Trust, Petworth House, West Sussex), though as Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll suggest,3 he probably relied on William Woollett’s 1783 engraving of the subject rather than the original picture. He was to become very familiar with the picture itself, and painted an extraordinarily close pastiche of it, in his Apullia in Search of Apullus vide Ovid of 1814 (Tate N00495).4 He also indeed used Claude’s general design for views of the Thames from Richmond Hill, in Thomson’s Aeolian Harp of 1809 (Manchester Art Gallery),5 and England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday of 1819 (Tate N00502),6 as well as some watercolours of the subject.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

1
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.36–7 no.47, pl.55 (colour).
2
See James Hamilton, Turner’s Britain, exhibition catalogue, Gas Hall, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery 2003, pp.74–76.
3
See Butlin and Joll 1984, p.36.
4
Ibid., pp.91–2 no.128, pl.134.
5
Ibid., pp.64–5 no.86, pl.96 (colour).
6
Ibid., pp.106–7 no.140, pl.145 (colour).

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