Joseph Mallord William Turner

River Scene with Trees and Distant Buildings, Perhaps on the Thames

c.1822–7

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 231 x 370 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25323
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 201

Catalogue entry

With figures in a small boat or punt, a white building in the distance on the left, and what appears to be a grey turret on the right, this airy scene has long been associated with the River Thames,1 and may well show a rural stretch west of London, although there are no firm topographical pointers. See the ‘Thames Sketchbooks c.1804–14’ and ‘Thames, London and South of England 1821–7’ sections for many comparable identified subjects.
Unaware of the 1822 watermark, Gerald Wilkinson observed ‘the affectionate rendering of elms, reeds and fishermen, the distances closed by tall poplars or grey buildings’, and strongly associated the sheet with the mid 1800s, such as colour studies in the Thames, from Reading to Walton sketchbook;2 see for example Tate D05951 (Turner Bequest XCV 47). Eric Shanes suggested a view of Syon House, near Turner’s 1805 Isleworth base, recalling an ink drawing of the latter year in the Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05507; Turner Bequest XC 12);3 although the general disposition of trees and buildings is comparable, the lightly indicated buildings on the right here do not immediately suggest Syon House, and any similarity is likely generic.

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell suggested the scene might be Eton,4 a familiar subject upriver (see under Tate D20610; Turner Bequest CCXXVI 10). This possibility was relayed by Michael Spender, who mentioned the watercolour Eton College of about 1829 (currently untraced),5 engraved for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales in 1831 (Tate impressions: T04576, T04577), and loose colour studies in the Thames sketchbook of about 1825, possibly ‘painted at about the same time’;6 compare for example Tate D18626 (Turner Bequest CCXII 23).
The sheet has been speculatively dated here to the mid 1820s, given the possible connections to Thames views of about that time; see also the variations on the trees by water theme in the ‘Lowland and River Colour Studies c.1820–40’ section. Tate D25324 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 202) in the present section is a similar subject on a matching 1822 sheet.
1
See Verne, Binyon and Gillet 1938, p.136.
2
See Wilkinson 1975, p.111.
3
See Shanes 1997, p.102.
4
C.F. Bell (died 1966), undated MS note in a copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, II, p.829.
5
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.397 no.830, reproduced.
6
Spender 1980, p.144.
1
Finberg 1909, II, p.829.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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