Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grounds of Trinity College, Oxford

c.1837–9

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Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 344 x 505 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25217
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 95

Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has identified this loose colour study as showing Trinity College, Oxford, based on a pencil drawing in the Oxford sketchbook, in use between about 1834 and 18381 (Tate D27935, D27936; Turner Bequest CCLXXXV 26a–27),2 possibly as an undeveloped design for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales,3 the last engravings of which were published in 1838.
The view is to the west from the Parks Road entrance to the grounds, along the receding path leading to the Garden Quadrangle, with the college itself, ranged along the skyline in the detailed sketch, barely indicated here by a succession of palely washed masses against white clouds towards the left or reserved areas left white against the blue sky towards the right. Turner has introduced gardening equipment in the foreground, and the lightly indicated figures midway down the path may be ‘gowned academics’ suggested by tiny figures in the distance of the original sketch.4
Colin Harrison has also dated this, along with other Oxford colour studies, to the late 1830s,5 hence the dating here. Tate D25218 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 96) shows Trinity in the distance from the grounds of St John’s College, while Tate D36314 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 24) shows New College from its grounds. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised Oxford subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Quoting Finberg’s tentative title, Gerald Wilkinson decided the ‘“cathedral” is so near invisible it can be discounted. An empty, yet strangely interesting “beginning”.’6
1
See Harrison 2000, p.88.
2
Shanes 1997, p.89.
3
See ibid., pp.12, 13, 26, 86, 89, 96, 100, 105.
4
See ibid.
5
Harrison 2000, p.91.
6
Wilkinson 1975, p.117.
Technical notes:
As Eric Shanes notes,1 this is one of four Oxford colour studies which are closely related physically. Tate D36314 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 24, watermarked 1837) and Tate D25218 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 96) have matching serrations at the bottom of their respective compositions where the original super royal-format sheet was torn in half. The two were worked up on opposite faces of the overall sheet, presumably after it was halved, as there is no overlap of watercolour wash from the front of one to the back of the other. All of the above applies to Tate D25220 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98) and the present work, also originally a single sheet. Shanes observes that ‘all four drawings manifest extremely similar serrations that resulted from the two super royal sheets being torn in half simultaneously’.2 He also suggests that their ‘distinctive, shared characteristics’, along with those of a fifth Oxford study, Tate D36316 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26, watermarked 1837), indicate that they ‘may have been made during the same work session’.3
1
Shanes 1997, p.86.
2
Ibid.
3
Ibid.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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