Joseph Mallord William Turner

Juvenile Tricks

c.1808

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

Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 185 x 264 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08127
Turner Bequest CXVI Z

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘JUVENILE TRICKS’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
Along with Marine Dabblers and Young Anglers (see Tate D08133, D08136; Turner Bequest CXVII F, I) this composition is one of three Liber Studiorum subjects showing boys playing. In Modern Painters, Ruskin praised them as an aspect of ‘a range of feeling which no other painter, as far as I know, can equal. He cannot, for instance, draw children at play as well as [William] Mulready; but just glean out of his works the evidence of his sympathy’.1 In addition, Gillian Forrester has discussed the likely influence of the figure compositions of George Morland and Turner’s new rival in the mid 1800s, David Wilkie, on the ‘Pastoral’ category of the Liber.2 Finberg also recognised ‘Turner’s bent towards homely realism’,3 though Rawlinson ‘could well spare the comic element in Liber. In the happily few cases in which Turner attempted, as here, to introduce it, his awkward handling is itself ludicrous.’4 Stopford Brooke was bemused that ‘one who could draw with elaborating love and with equal keenness of eye and heart the mystical beauty of Nature should represent humanity under forms so revolting.’5
Although Brooke was certain that the setting was Green Park,6 Rawlinson assumed it was Hyde Park,7 and perhaps Hyde Park’s ‘dipping well’8 is shown. Large stipple engravings after Francis Wheatley and Maria Spilsbury, respectively The Dipping Well in Hyde Park9 and The Drinking Well in Hyde Park (Guildhall Library Print Room, London, p5419784), had been published in 1802. Both depict genteel groups in wooded parkland, gathered around small troughs set into the ground – apparently enclosing springs, as water flows away in each case. They are probably the two mentioned in a later guidebook as being on the north side of the Serpentine;10 health-giving properties were presumably attributed to them. Two undated, early nineteenth-century aquatints by William Pickett also show figures gathering at the wells, with terraced houses similar to Turner’s on the skyline (Guildhall Library Print Room, London, p5415237 and p541583x). In Spilsbury’s composition, women and children are shown filling glasses provided from a table by a paid attendant; in Wheatley’s, several babies and young children are shown being undressed, dipped in the water and dried by nursemaids or attendants as parents look on. Turner may have known the site and the prints and there could perhaps be obscure element of parody in his Liber design; given that there appears to be a degree of organisation in the boys’ activities, he may be representing an apprentices’ initiation rite.11
1
Cook and Wedderburn VI 1904, p.26.
2
Forrester 1996, p.70.
3
Finberg 1910, p.57.
4
Rawlinson 1878, p.50.
5
Brooke 1885, p.[75].
6
Ibid.
7
Rawlinson 1878, p.50.
8
See MS annotation to Rawlinson 1878, p.50, in Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room copy.
9
Mary Webster, Francis Wheatley, Studies in British Art, London 1970, p.187 no.E155; after painting of circa 1795: ibid., p.152 no.113, reproduced.
10
[Edward Mogg], Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to its Sights, [London] 1844, quoted in ‘Entertainment and Recreation: Parks, Commons and Heaths: Hyde Park’, The Victorian Dictionary, accessed 13 April 2006, http://www.victorianlondon.org/.
11
Forrester 1996, p.71 and note 6.
12
Ibid., pp.160–1 (transcribed).
13
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
14
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
15
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
1
Forrester 1996, pp.70, 71 note 1 (paper analysis by Peter Bower, and pigment analysis by Joyce Townsend, acknowledged p.8).

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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