View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
[from] The Rivers of England (‘River Scenery’) pub.1823–7 [T04790-T04819; complete]
Thirty mezzotints, some over soft-ground etching, by various engravers and in various states, comprising sixteen subjects out of a total of seventeen after Turner for this series (see After William Collins and After Thomas Girtin for five other plates for this series); various papers and sizes
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Prov: ...; N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd, from whom bt by Tate Gallery
Lit: Eric Shanes, Turner's Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, 1981, Turner's England 1810–38, 1990; Ian
Warrell, Turner: The Fourth Decade: Watercolours 1820–1830, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1991
The Rivers of England seems to have been planned by William Bernard Cooke in the early 1820s as a sequel in mezzotint to Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (still in the course of publication at this date, see T04370-T04427 above); for on the wrappers to the early part numbers it advertised itself as ‘a series of picturesque delineations of the interior of the country, while the former [i.e. the Southern Coast] displays the most prominent features of its shores’. The original scope of the project is also indicated on the wrappers to the individual parts: ‘each number contains three plates Twelve numbers will form a volume, complete in itself, containing thirty-six views’ - although only seven parts were actually published, between 1823 and 1827. Prices are given for each part as 10 shillings for Royal Quarto prints, 14 shillings for Imperial Quarto proofs, or 16 shillings for proofs on India paper.
Rather than selling the original watercolours to Cooke, as in previous series, for The Rivers of England Turner adopted a new system (which he was to use for nearly all subsequent engraving projects) whereby he loaned out the drawings to the publisher for a fee, in this case eight guineas each; thus all eighteen preliminary watercolours for The Rivers of England remained in his studio until his death, forming part of the Turner Bequest. This change of policy on the artist's part may have been partly due to his growing concern to keep his work together, but is likely to have been more immediately motivated by financial and practical reasons. For it ensured that the publishers were prevented from selling the preliminary watercolours, once the engraver had finished with them, for an excessively inflated sum (see under introduction to T04370-T04427); and, perhaps partly for this reason, it seems also in the long run to have lessened the need for Turner to negotiate an increase in his fee. Six engravers were employed on the plates: J. Bromley, probably John Charles Bromley (1795–1839) rather than his younger brother James (1801–38); Thomas Goff Lupton (1791–1873); George Henry Phillips (active c.1835–49); Samuel William Reynolds, probably the elder (1773–1835) rather than the younger (1794–1872); William Say (1768–1834) and Charles Turner (1773–1857). Four of these - Lupton, Reynolds, Say and Charles Turner - had worked before with Turner on plates for the Liber Studiorum. It is not known what fee they received for their work.
An advertisement inserted into copies of numbers one and two of the series claimed that ‘the work is in such a state of forwardness as to ensure a regular delivery every Three Months’. By the time part six appeared in 1826, however, subscribers were informed that there were to be had ‘twenty-four views of English River Scenery’ and that the series was ‘to be completed in nine numbers’, with the explanation that ‘this work was commenced under the title of “The RIVERS of ENGLAND” and has received [sic] a great share of public patronage; it is however expedient to close the work at the above period, in consequence of there not being sufficient engravers in mezzotinto to carry it on with spirit’. Indication that the project had had to be further curtailed is found in another notice stitched into part six stating that ‘the letterpress Descriptions of the views contained in this work of “RIVER SCENERY”, will be given in No VII - to be published on the First of January, 1827 - which will complete the work, in One volume’. Despite Cooke's statement that the project had drawn to a close for want of suitable mezzotint engravers, the most likely reason was almost certainly the bitter quarrel between him and Turner that year over the conditions accruing to a two and a half times increase in the latter's fee for a projected sequel to Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England (see under T04370-T04427 above). On the other hand, one of the more important mezzotint engravers in Cooke's team, Thomas Lupton, was from 1826 increasingly involved in engraving and publishing the plates for another series from Turner's drawings, The Ports of England (see under T 04822–04837) and may therefore have found less time to contribute plates to The Rivers - although one mezzotint, ‘Stangate Creek on the River Medway’ (Rawlinson II 1913, no.766), was engraved by him for the seventh and last issue.
As had been promised, this final part of the series included an accompanying text for each plate by Mrs Hofland, for binding up with the published plates to form a single volume under the revised title River Scenery. A title page was also included in the seventh part: ‘River Scenery, by Turner and Girtin, with Descriptions by Mrs. Hofland. Engraved by Eminent Engravers, from Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. and the Late Thomas Girtin. 1827. London, Published by W.B. Cooke, 9 Soho Square’. The new title was not simply used for the work in its bound form, for it had been adopted for all the plates in the series published from part six, which appeared in 1826. The title - whether in its original or revised form - is in any case something of a misnomer, for as Ruskin commented, the series is ‘without a single drawing of a rapidly running stream; very few of the great rivers of England are represented in it, and the interest of many of the subjects lies in their architectural landscape surrounding than in the streams themselves’ (quoted Rawlinson I 1908, p.xlii). As early as part two, an advertisement had stated that the project would include ‘the characteristic features of the cities and towns through which the rivers flow ... presenting unbounded variety in others of a marine and open character, towards their conflux with the sea’. However, whether such marine subjects had been envisaged from the outset, or whether they were at an early date simply accommodated in the project to suit Turner's wishes, is not clear.
Of the twenty-one plates published in seven parts, only sixteen were after designs by Turner, for two of his original eighteen designs never got as far as publication (‘Arundel Castle’, Rawlinson II 1913, no.768, was never finished; and ‘The Medway’, although apparently intended for The Rivers of England and listed by Rawlinson as no.769, was never engraved for this series - although, according to him, it was engraved for the ‘Little Liber’ about the same date: see Rawlinson no.809a). The remaining five plates were from designs by other artists: ‘York Minster’, ‘Kirkstall Abbey’, ‘Bolton Abbey’ and ‘Ripon Minster’ were after Thomas Girtin (see After Girtin, T04868-T04871); and ‘Eton on the Thames’ was after a drawing by William Collins (see After Collins, T04867). In the second part of the series, two other plates after these artists were advertised - a view on the River Brent by Charles Turner after Collins, and a view of Durham on the River Wear by S.W. Reynolds after Girtin - but were never in fact published.
The lettering on most of the prints in the series includes in their published states the words ‘Engraved on Steel’, and indeed this series seems to have been the first landscape series in England to have been engraved on steel rather than copper (see Rawlinson II 1913, p.363). One of the pioneers of this new process was Thomas Lupton, who in 1822 had been awarded the Isis Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for his success with a soft steel plate. This plate apparently yielded 15,000 impressions and had been developed after much experimentation with nickel and various alloys. The steel plate, however, required much more work. In a letter to the Society of Arts dated 1 November 1822, Lupton compared the number of times it was necessary to go over the plate with the rocker when preparing the mezzotint ground; for copper it was between twenty-four and thirty-six times, for steel as many as ninety (Hilary Beck, Victorian Engravings, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum 1973, p.19). Lupton was to employ mezzotint on steel for two other landscape series in the 1820s, the unfinished project Marine Views (Rawlinson II 1913, nos.770–2; see Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.53–5), and The Ports of England (see T04822-T04837). There were, however, a number of teething problems with the series, no doubt because the use of steel plates was still in its infancy at this date. It was stated under the ‘Directions to the Binder’, issued with the seventh (and last) part of the series, that three plates - Collins's ‘Eton’, Girtin's ‘Ripon’ and Turner's ‘Totnes’ (see T04867, T04870 and T04819) - had had to be cancelled owing to ‘imperfections in the manufacture of the steel-plates on which they have been engraved. This accidental circumstance, in the early invention of Steel Mezzotinto Plates, defeated all the exertions made by the Artists to restore them’. These three plates were accordingly excluded from the list of contents of River Scenery which was issued in part VII. However, since the plates had already been issued to subscribers before cancellation, they are usually found bound into copies of River Scenery, usually at the end of the volume. Rawlinson confusingly states that ‘the first three plates broke down in printing, and had to be re-engraved’; whether he is referring to the three plates which appeared in part I (‘Shields’, ‘Newcastle’ and ‘Eton, on the River Thames’, Rawlinson nos.752–4) or to the three cancelled plates mentioned above is not clear. In spite of problems such as these, the series seems to have been a commercial success, for it was republished twice, firstly in 1830 by Jones & Co. of Finsbury Square, and in a later edition by H.G. Bohn (see Rawlinson II 1913, p.365; for Bohn, see introduction to T04503-T04612); and during its progress an announcement was made that it would be followed by a companion series, The Ports of England (see T04822-T04837). The letterpress on the wrappers of numbers four to seven of The Rivers of England claimed that ‘the style in which the plates are engraved is peculiarly adapted to the powerful effects of light and shade, in the varieties of Twilight, -Sunrise, -Mid-day, - and Sunset’. The medium is indeed ideal for capturing the more dramatic contrasts of light and shade characteristic of night or early morning scenes, such as for example ‘Shields’ or ‘Norham Castle’ (T04790 and T04799-T04801). It is, however, less well suited to translating brighter and more evenly lit daytime landscapes such as ‘More Park’ or ‘Arundel Castle’ (T04794-T04795 and T04815), where sunlight is shown breaking through cloud after rain and casting a sparkling freshness across the landscape (although the latter plate is greatly admired by Herrmann, 1990, p.157, and indeed boasts a wide variety of tones). As Rawlinson points out (II 1913, p.364), the beauty and delicacy of the plates can only be appreciated in the early impressions, rather than in the two ‘worthless Reprints’ he lists (see above).
A number of the prints include the engraved inscription ‘J.M.W. Turner's 15 Proofs’ either in addition to the rest of the engraved lettering (as for T04791) or simply on its own (as for T04799 and T04805); on occasion, this is abbreviated to the artist's initials ‘J M W T’ (as for T04803). These proofs are referred to by Rawlinson as ‘Turner's copies’ and catalogued by him as proofs, immediately preceding the first published states. However, he misleadingly writes that these impressions ‘claimed by Turner as his perquisite were taken after the first published state’ (unless he means to imply that Turner on this occasion claimed two sets of early impressions). Preliminary soft-ground etchings exist for two subjects in the series, for ‘Kirkstall Abbey’ (see T04810) and for ‘Newcastle-on-Tyne’; an impression of the latter is catalogued and discussed below (see T04917).
T04800 Norham Castle, on the River Tweed engr. C. Turner
Mezzotint 154 × 218 (6 1/16 × 8 5/8) on India paper laid on wove paper 343 × 516 (13 1/2 × 20 5/16); plate-mark 194 × 258 (7 5/8 × 10 1/8)
Lit: As for T04799 but engraver's proof
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996