Joseph Mallord William Turner

Stonehenge

c.1827

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

Medium
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 346 x 488 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25123
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 1

Catalogue entry

This colour study has long been recognised as relating to the watercolour of about 1827 (Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),1 engraved as Stone Henge in 1829 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04548, T04549, T06083).2 This identification was largely facilitated by Turner’s inscription ‘Stonehenge no 1 [?XRS] 2 done’; the only elaborations to the basic setting of Salisbury Plain below billowing clouds are a cluster of roughly vertical and horizontal pencil lines above the horizon towards the right, lightly indicating the stones of the ancient Wiltshire monument, and pale shapes lifted from the dark was below the horizon which prefigure the sheep in the finished design. Shanes notes that ‘were it not for the inscription and subtle resemblance of cloud forms’ it would have been difficult to make the connection.3
A detailed discussion of Turner’s Stonehenge sketches and subsequent works appears in this catalogue’s introduction to the Stonehenge sketchbook (Tate; CXXV b),4 used on his 1811 tour of the West Country. As has been noted elsewhere,5 the dramatic England and Wales rendition of the monument in a thunder-storm, with a shepherd and his flock struck by lightning, is crowded with inaccurately drawn stones, bearing a very inexact resemblance to the place and to the attentive drawings made at the site.
Dismissing earlier readings of ‘&’ and ‘and’, Shanes interprets the characters inscribed between Turner’s ‘1’ and ‘2’ as ‘XRS’, noting the latter as a cipher for the name of Christ, linking it to the shepherd imagery of the finished design and the thematically associated England and Wales watercolour of Salisbury, Wiltshire of about 1828 (also Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),6 engraved in 1830 (Tate impression: T04586).7
An even sparser ‘colour beginning’ (Tate D25159; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 37) has also been related to the Stonehenge composition. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
1
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, pp.394–5 no.811, reproduced.
2
See Finberg 1909, II, p.814, and later sources including Wilton 1975, p.66, Wilton 1979, p.395, and Shanes 1997, pp.13, 15, 16, 95, 104.
3
Shanes 1997, p.16.
4
See also Wilton 1975, p.66, and Wilton 1979, p.395.
5
Eric Shanes, Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales 1825–1838, London 1979, p.30 under no.25, quoting Louis Hawes, Constable’s Stonehenge, London 1975, p.17.
6
Wilton 1979, p.398 no.836, reproduced.
7
Shanes 1997, pp.15, 32 notes 12–14, 95.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

1
Transcribed in Finberg 1909, II, p.814.

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