Catalogue entry

113. [T03880] Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy Morning Exh. 1810

TATE GALLERY AND THE NATIONAL TRUST (LORD EGREMONT COLLECTION) PETWORTH HOUSE
Canvas, 36 × 47 1/2 (91·4 × 120·6)
Signed and dated ‘J M W Turner R A 1810’ lower left

Coll. Painted for the third Earl of Egremont in 1810; by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. R.A. 1810 (158); R.A. 1892 (133); Tate Gallery 1951 (13); R.A. 1951–2 (174); Victoria and Albert Museum Going Going Gone, 1974 (un-numbered).

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856; Burnet and Cunningham 1852, p. 112, no. 97; Thornbury 1862, i, p. 381; 1877, pp. 165, 572; Bell 1901, p. 88 no. 119; Armstrong 1902, pp. 60, 109, 226; Collins Baker 1920, p. 125 no. 636, repr. as frontispiece; Whitley 1928, p. 170; Finberg 1961, pp. 168, 171, 473 no. 160; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 27, 44, 48, pl. 46; Lindsay 1966, p. 107; Gage 1969, p. 89; Reynolds 1969, pp. 69, 106; Herrmann 1975, p. 19, pl. 62; Joll 1977, pp. 375–6; Wilton 1979, p. 164; Gage 1980, p. 250; Youngblood 1983, pp. 16–17, pl. 2.

Based on a pencil sketch (repr. in Wilkinson 1974, p. 98) on p. 4 of the ‘Petworth’ sketchbook (CIX), in use in the summer of 1809. Besides drawings of Petworth, this book has a number of studies of Cockermouth Castle, also belonging to Lord Egremont who had commissioned Turner to paint him views of both Petworth and Cockermouth Castle (No. 108 [T03879]). A payment from Lord Egremont on 14 June 1810, recorded in Turner's ‘Finance’ sketchbook (CXXII), probably refers to these two pictures.

As Rothenstein and Butlin have pointed out, following on his experiments of using a white ground for the sky and the water in his Thames studies on canvas, Turner now began to explore the possibilities of attaining a high key in his finished oils by using a white ground throughout (although the catalogue of the Wantage collection claims that the first picture Turner painted on a white ground was Whalley Bridge exhibited in 1811 (see No. 117)). Turner's experiments in watercolour, in which he used the white paper as the means of lightening the tone of his drawings by allowing it to show through transparent washes, may have encouraged him to try a similar process in oil. At any rate, the result was sufficiently novel to make the critic of La Belle Assemblée (1810, i, p. 250) doubt that the picture was by Turner if it had not been ‘for the information in the catalogue’. He wrote: ‘... it was manifestly Mr. Turner's design to express the peculiar hue and pellucidness of objects seen through a medium of air, in other words to express the clearness of atmosphere. To effect this purpose it was necessary to select those dark material objects which serve as a foil to aerial lights and to produce atmosphere by their contrast. Mr. Turner has neglected to use these necessary foils and has thus made a confusion between aerial lights and the appropriate gloom of objects. Failing in this forcible opposition, without which a painter can never express atmosphere, the appearance of the picture is that of a mere flimsy daubing without substance or distinction, without either shape or colour. A man of Mr. Turner's experience should have understood better the principles of his art’.

However, other critics were more appreciative: the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser for 9 May wrote:

‘The chief excellence in this picture is the execution of the water, and the dewy vapour that floats through the vallies; the latter effect is most happily expressed and, apparently, by a very simple process, that of a kind of light scumbling and glazing; but we think some of the more prominent objects in the foreground want force, and a richer variety of tint’.


This notice was repeated, almost word for word, in the St. James's Chronicle for 8–10 May while the British Press, 13 June, considered it ‘Another most beautiful landscape, in which the water is pre-eminent, for the excellence with which it is finished. In clearness and brilliancy, we have never seen it excelled’. Later on, however, Turner is criticized for ‘a remarkable blemish ... in the shadow of the boat in the water, which is stronger than the boat itself; thus, contrary to nature, making the shadow the object, and the object the shadow’.

As Patrick Youngblood observes, the west facade of Petworth, shown here, is ‘almost featureless’, so that Turner ‘is forced to call upon every pictorial device at his disposal to rescue the composition from stagnation’.


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