Joseph Mallord William Turner

Entrance of the Meuse: Orange-Merchant on the Bar, Going to Pieces; Brill Church bearing S. E. by S., Masensluys E. by S.

exhibited 1819

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1753 x 2464 mm
frame: 2110 x 2820 x 140 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
N00501

Display caption

Fishermen scavenge for oranges lost by the Dutch merchant vessel grounded on a sandbank in the Meuse estuary. Turner's title locates this dangerous spot precisely, while Brill church is visible on the distant shore. The picture is a punning play on the contemporary political and economic condition of the Dutch royal house of Orange, which had recently made losses on its British investments placed during the Napoleonic Wars.

Gallery label, July 2001

Catalogue entry

139. [N00501] Entrance of the Meuse: Orange-Merchant on the Bar, going to Pieces; Brill Church bearing S.E. by S., Masensluys E. by S. Exh 1819

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (501).
Canvas, 69 × 97 (175·5 × 246·5)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (55, ‘Orange Merchant going to pieces’ 8'0" × 5'8 1/2"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1912.
Exh. R.A. 1819 (136); New Zealand (8), Australia and South Africa (56, repr.) 1936–9; Paris 1972 (263, repr.); R.A. 1974–5 (166).
Lit. Ruskin 1860 (1903–12, vii, p. 376); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 301; 1877, pp. 435–6; Hamerton 1879, p. 169; A. H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer 1892, p. 7; Bell 1901, p. 102 no. 142; Armstrong 1902, pp. 59, 230, repr. facing p. 84; Davies 1946, p. 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 259, 397, 481 no. 250; Gage 1967, p. 171; Louis Hawes, ‘Constable's Sky Sketches, iv. Turner's Skies 1817–19’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes xxxii 1969, p. 357, pl. 55c; Raymond Lister (ed.), The Letters of Samuel Palmer 1974, ii, p. 872; Herrmann 1975, pp. 26, 230, pl. 81; Gage 1980, p. 195.

One of the series of large coast or harbour scenes in northern Europe painted in a style and tonality that owe much to Cuyp (see also Nos. 137, 231 and 232). The title embodies a typical pun, the ‘Orange Merchant’ not only hailing from the country ruled by the House of Orange but having spilled its cargo of oranges. ‘Masensluys’ is Maassluis, the other side of the Maas from Brill.

There are three composition sketches in the ‘Farnley’ sketchbook, one sketch in which is dated 1818 (CLIII-89 verso, 90 verso and, less closely related, 41). There is also a related sketch in the ‘Hints River’ sketchbook of about the same date (CXLI-3 verso). The distant shoreline seems to be based on summary drawings in the ‘Dort’ sketchbook of 1817 (CLXII-81, 82 and 82 verso). The particularly highly developed study of cloud effects may owe something to the watercolour studies in the ‘Skies’ sketchbook, perhaps painted in 1818 (CLVIII).

The picture was singled out for praise in the Repository of Arts for June 1819 in a review beginning ‘To speak of the extraordinary powers of this artist would indeed be a work of superogation’. It was also praised in the British Press for 10 May as ‘an admirable specimen of this Artist's unrivalled powers of imitation from nature’. The Literary Gazette (untraced; see Finberg op. cit., p. 259) said of it that it exhibited ‘some of the noblest powers of landscape painting’. However, the Annals of the Fine Arts for the year found it ‘Too scattered and frittered in its parts to be reckoned among Turner's happiest productions. Compared with himself, this picture suffers, —compared with others, it maintains Turner's rank uninjured’. It was the first Turner to be seen by the fourteen-year-old Samuel Palmer who, writing on 9 December 1872 to George Richmond's daughter Julia, said, ‘The first exhibition I saw, in 1819 is fixed in my memory by the first Turner “The Orange merchant on the bar” —and being by nature a lover of smudginess, I have revelled in him from that day to this’.

In a letter to his dealer Griffith in 1844 Turner mentioned this picture among others ‘subject to neglect and dirt’, speaking of its ‘accidental stains’.


Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984