J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Cattle on the Bank of a River, with Boats Passing 1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 47 Verso:
Cattle on the Bank of a River, with Boats Passing 1808
Turner Bequest CIV 46a
Pencil on white laid paper, 98 x 162 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The subject, drawn the sketchbook inverted, is continued on folio 48 (D06919; Turner Bequest CIV 47). This one of three versions of this composition, the others being on folio 48 verso (D06920; Turner Bequest CIV 47a) and across folios 49 verso–50 (D06922–D06923; Turner Bequest CIV 48–49). These, especially D06920, served as the basis for a picture (Tate N01857) which, according to Butlin and Joll, is the slightly less likely of two possible candidates for a ‘Sketch of Cows, &c’ exhibited at Turner’s Gallery in 1809.1 The painting is consistent with that date stylistically and with Turner’s current interest in the luminous golden colouring and pastoral subjects of the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp. However it is perhaps too finished to have been exhibited as a ‘Sketch’ and is also larger than Turner’s usual size for such a subject even in finished pictures.
These factors indicate that the subject had some importance for Turner but its location is unclear in the context of this sketchbook and of what is known of Turner’s travels in 1808 (see Introduction). Noting that the drawings of this composition ‘follow’ others of the River Dee as correctly identified by Finberg, Butlin and Joll suggest that the river ‘may therefore also be the scene of [the] painting’. However, as Turner made the drawings with the sketchbook inverted, he was probably working through it from the back at this point. The presence of barges and cargo suggests a substantial river. If the Dee this must be the estuary, which would be possible if Turner’s route into Wales or northwards from Tabley to Lancashire and Yorkshire took him via Chester and involved a diversion to the west. Perhaps more likely is that in Wales he continued as far as the coast, perhaps to Barmouth and the Mawddach Estuary. The components of the Tate picture, including boats, cattle, sandy shore-line and distant mountains can be compared to those in a watercolour by John Sell Cotman, Cader Idris from Barmouth Sands (Eton College), which had probably been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1804.
Not noticed hitherto is that the Tate picture is shown, in a watercolour by John Chessell Buckler dated 1809 (Tabley House), hanging to the left of the chimneypiece in the Picture Gallery at Tabley. Although the picture has no recorded provenance other than the Turner Bequest and does not seem to be otherwise documented in Sir John Leicester’s collections at Tabley or Hill Street, London, Buckler cannot have invented its position in the gallery in 1809. Perhaps Sir John had it on approval or temporary loan to fill a gap on his wall. Although considerably larger, it is much looser in handling than Trout Fishing in the Dee, Corwen Bridge and Cottage (Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio),2 usually supposed to be the additional picture begun by Turner at Tabley in 1808 as reported by Henry Thomson; it might be another candidate for that work.

David Blayney Brown
May 2010

Butlin and Joll 1984, p.63 no.84 (pl.94); for the other possible exhibit, see ibid., pp.62–3 no.83 (pl.93).
Ibid., p.68 no.92 (pl.102).

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Cattle on the Bank of a River, with Boats Passing 1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2010, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-cattle-on-the-bank-of-a-river-with-boats-passing-r1133674, accessed 20 April 2018.