Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Farm-Yard with the Cock

c.1806–7

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 184 x 260 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08121
Turner Bequest CXVI T

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 29 March 1809
There is no known direct source for Turner’s Liber Studiorum design, though he may have referred back to two 1796 watercolour studies of pigs in his Studies near Brighton sketchbook (Tate D00838, D00839; Turner Bequest XXX 93, 94), the second of which shows a sow and her litter. It is one of two early Liber drawings showing farm-yards; the other is known as The Straw Yard (see Tate D08111; Turner Bequest CXVI J).
Ruskin occasionally used the composition as evidence that nothing was ‘too low’1 or ‘too little’2 to deserve Turner’s attention, though he regarded it as ‘of a kind peculiarly simple’,3 noting the ‘decay and humiliation’ of the ‘disordered and poor’ yard.4 Rawlinson found the design ‘uninteresting’ and the failed result of ‘a challenge from his friend and patron Mr. Stokes, who had declared that not even he (Turner) could make a picture out of straight lines.’5 Stopford Brooke analysed the ‘careful’ composition, but found ‘the commonplace of the whole is too great to be redeemed.’6
Anne Lyles has suggested the influence of Dutch seventeenth-century artists such as Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636–1695) and Paulus Potter (1625–1654)7 – although the present drawing was probably made a little early to have been influenced by Turner’s visits from 1808 onwards to Farnley Hall, where his patron Walter Fawkes owned comparable Dutch works. Gillian Forrester suggests a more immediate precedent in the rustic genre scenes of George Morland8 (see full catalogue entry for The Straw Yard, as noted above).
The published plate was untitled; the present title is the customary one established by early scholars and collectors of the Liber, and codified in print in 1872.9 The composition is recorded, as ‘4[:] 1 Cocks and Hens’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)10 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.11 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘1 Cocks and Hens’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a).12
1
Pre-Raphaelitism, in Cook and Wedderburn XII 1904, p.368.
2
Letter to the Revd W.L. Brown, 27 November 1843, in ibid., XXXVI 1909, p.34; see also letter to the Rev. H.G. Liddell, 12 October 1844, in ibid., III 1903, p.673
3
Ibid., III 1903, p.236.
4
Ibid., VII 1903, p.432.
5
Rawlinson 1878, p.40.
6
Brooke 1885, p.59.
7
Anne Lyles, Turner and Natural History: The Farnley Project, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.62.
8
Forrester 1996, p.64; see also p.53.
9
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.23 no.17.
10
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
11
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
12
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
13
Rawlinson 1878, pp.40–9; 1906, pp.49–58; Finberg 1924, pp.65–84.
1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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