Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trial Print


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Intaglio print on paper
Image: 194 x 266 mm
Purchased 1988

Catalogue entry

T05201 Trial Print

Mixed media 194 × 269 (7 5/8 × 10 9/16) on wove paper 285 × 387 (11 3/16 × 15 1/4); plate-mark 217 × 292 (8 9/16 × 11 1/2), late nineteenth-century impression printed in black ink; watermark ‘1879.’

Inscribed in pencil lower left ‘Proof of a plate found in Turner's house’

Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1988
Prov: ...; N.W. Lott and H.J. Gerrish Ltd from whom bt by Tate Gallery

This plate is referred to as a ‘trial print’ since it is clearly unfinished and has a certain experimental quality, whilst little can be made out of its subject. There are a few etched outlines which represent trees, but most of the image is made up of areas of tone provided for the most part by mezzotint and aquatint, and probably also a little stipple. This ‘mixed method’ of printmaking corresponds most closely in Turner's engraved oeuvre with the later plates made for the Liber Studiorum, c.1815–20, many of which remained unpublished in his lifetime and some of which were engraved by Turner himself (for a discussion of this project, see Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.44–52).

The copper plates of eleven unpublished subjects for the Liber Studiorum came up for sale with the ‘first portion of the Valuable Engravings from the Works of the late J.M.W. Turner, R.A.’ at Christie's, 24–8 March 1873, but all of these correspond with identified subjects (W.G. Rawlinson, Turner's Liber Studiorum, 2nd ed., 1906, nos.72–89). The sale catalogue then listed two further, unspecified plates, lot nos.923a and 923b, but these seem most likely to correspond with the ‘two Liber Plates from the Turner sale’, impressions from which showed ‘the utterly worn condition to which the copper-plates were reduced before Turner ceased to print from them’ (‘List of various other objects of interest connected with the Liber Studiorum’, Catalogue of Mr W.G. Rawlinson's Collection of Turner's Liber Studiorum, 1887, p.87).

However, we know from the testimony of the engraver Frank Short (1857–1945) that there were ‘eight or ten’ further copper plates found in Turner's house on his death, ‘which had evidently been intended to be used for the Liber, as they were the same size and make of plates as those engraved’ (M. Hardie, The Liber Studiorum Mezzotints of Sir Frank Short, R.A., P.R.E. After J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 1938, p.73, no.32). These plates were not apparently included in the Turner sales, for Short records how he was presented them in about 1895 by William Coham Turner (1825–1900) - a son of J.M.W. Turner's cousin William Turner (1780–1853). ‘On one of them’, Short records, ‘was some experimental work which was altogether unintelligible’. The other plates, he recalled, had nothing on them, whilst a further plate corresponded with Turner's drawing ‘Huntsmen in a Wood’ (W.G. Rawlinson, Turner's Liber Studiorum, 1906, pl.96). It was surely this plate with the ‘unintelligible work’ from which these two impressions, T04918 and T05201, were taken.

It is possible that it was Frank Short himself who took both these impressions of the ‘Trial Print’ catalogued here. T05201 is printed in black ink on paper watermarked 1879, and T04918 is printed in brown ink on a late nineteenth-century wove paper comparable in size to T05201. The plate for ‘Huntsmen in a Wood’ later passed into Rawlinson's possession (ibid., pl.96), so it seems likely that Rawlinson also inherited the other plates Short had been given by W.C. Turner. If so, then it is possible that Rawlinson may also have had impressions taken from the plate.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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