Joseph Mallord William Turner

Peat Bog, Scotland

c.1808

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

Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 190 x 268 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08148
Turner Bequest CXVII T

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and George Clint, ‘Peat Bog, Scotland’, published Turner, 23 April 1812
There is no known direct source for Turner’s Liber Studiorum design, though it is derived from impressions gathered on his first tour of Scotland in 1801. It is comparable to some of the mountain studies among the tonal ‘Scottish Pencil’ drawings, such as Tate D03392, D03395 and in particular D03417 (Turner Bequest LVIII 13, 16, 38). Ruskin considered the design ‘taken, with hardly any modification by pictorial influence, straight from nature’1 and Rawlinson expanded on this, ranking it ‘among the great plates of Liber. It is throughout eminently Turnerian. No influence of any other master, no reminiscences or traditions of any earlier school, are to be traced in it. The painter has gone straight to nature; but how truly he has seen, how finely has he drawn what he has seen; how simply, yet tellingly, has he composed his drawing.’2 Andrew Wilton has seen the composition as evidence of Turner’s experience of Scotland leading to a move from the Picturesque towards the Sublime, such that ‘there is no longer any wish ... to charm his audience with the polite formalities of picture-making.’3 Ruskin had observed: ‘Under the influence of such scenery Turner learned to despise the affectations of Italian landscape and the comforts of the Dutch, and prepared himself for the higher grandeur and more threatening gloom of the Alps.’4
In Modern Painters, Ruskin saw the composition as typical of the pessimistic atmosphere of the Liber (not ‘happy rural toil’, but ‘patient striving with hard conditions of life’), showing ‘cold, dark rain, and dangerous labour.’5 The arduous task of cutting the peat both for personal use and as part payment of rent would have occupied a significant proportion of tenant farmers’ time.6 Stopford Brooke noted that ‘of all the wretched figures in the Liber Studiorum, these are the most battered, torn, and tortured by their fate.’ However, Turner ‘may have felt that there were elements in the life of the Highland poor – strength of soul, rugged intelligence, faithful imagination – which redeemed its misery; and, so feeling, have made the storm to pass away and the rainbow to enlighten the mountains.’7 The threatening weather has been seen as an early example of Turner’s clouds and skies as ‘symbolic spectral configurations’ with ‘the grim bogey ... perfectly in place among the sombre clouds and misty rocks of the moorland’.8
1
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.399; see also Forrester 1996, p.32.
2
Rawlinson 1878, p.93.
3
Wilton 1980, p.[155].
4
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in Cook and Wedderburn XXI 1906, p.219.
5
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, pp.432, 433.
6
See Ann Chumbley and Ian Warrell, Turner and the Human Figure: Studies of Contemporary Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.39.
7
Brooke 1885, p.150.
8
Egri 1991, p.140; see also Brooke 1885, p.152.
9
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
10
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
11
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
12
Rawlinson 1878, pp.86–96; 1906, pp.101–13; Finberg 1924, pp.165–84.
13
Forrester 1996, p.107.
14
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.180.
15
Hardie 1938, pp.53–4 no.16, reproduced p.[83] pl.II.
16
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.73.
1
Forrester 1996, p.111.
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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