Joseph Mallord William Turner

?The Entrance of Peak Cavern, Castleton; ?a Farmer; with Inscription by Turner: ?List of ‘Little Liber’ Subjects


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 191 x 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Turner’s drawings and inscription here were made with the page turned vertically. The loose drawing towards the top is possibly looking out from the entrance to a Peak District cave, perhaps Peak Cavern at Castleton; compare the 1805 engraving after Edward Dayes (1763–1804) of The Peak Cavern, Derbyshire: View from the Interior of the Great Arch (Tate impression: T06400). For other views of the cave, Castleton and Peveril Castle, see under folio 1 verso (D22152). The orientation and subject of the jagged, hatched shapes towards the bottom left are unclear, but they may also be cave features.
With the page turned vertically, towards the bottom right is a figure which Finberg identified as ‘a farmer’. Seen from the back, he wears a tall, tapering hat, and a short coat or smock. There is a comparatively large study of another apparently rural character on folio 1 verso (D22152); other figure studies in this book include those on folios 4 verso, 5 recto, 61 verso and 64 verso (D22157, D22158, D22264, D22270), and folio 69 verso (D18591; Turner Bequest CCXI 42).
With the page turned vertically, the upper half is taken up with the following list:
Moonlight                        ______ [...]
Fish            _________________
Temple      _________________
Venice    ________
Sunrise      __________
Hare        ____________
Ship – Storm                   ___________
Evening sunset _____
C.L. Hind thought the words suggested a quality of immediacy, as Turner ‘seems to be present, noting nature, ready to record some sudden beauty’.1 However, the subjects appear to be among those of Turner’s so-called ‘Little Liber’, a series of twelve unpublished mezzotint landscape and seascape compositions which mark an experimental step beyond the use of tonal mezzotint over etched outlines of the Liber Studiorum, towards an expression of landscape, weather and light in terms of light and shade alone. For further discussion, see the present author’s ‘Liber Studiorum c.1806–24’ and ‘Little Liber c.1823–6’ sections in the present catalogue. The subjects listed on this page can be related with varying degrees of certainty to ‘Little Liber’ compositions, in what appears to be Turner’s sole written reference to the series:
Hind 1910, p.154.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.148–9 no.240 as untraced; since identified with Near Northcourt in the Isle of Wight, p.162 no.269, pl.241 (colour).
Gage 1987, p.246 note 8; see also p.42.

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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