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

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ploughing, Eton c.1818-22

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Ploughing, Eton circa 1818–22
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII T
Etching printed in brown ink with watercolour and pencil additions, 176 x 260 mm on off-white paper 300 x 430 mm; plate-mark 208 x 288 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Mr Lupton | If you have not the ground on yet, pray give the [?Plate] a good rubbing down with oil [Finberg: sil1] and ...[margin trimmed] | any way would make it better if brighter’ bottom margin
Inscribed in pencil ‘79’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘CXVIII T’ bottom right
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
? Thomas Lupton
Henry Vaughan by 1878
(see main catalogue entry)
While the initial pencil and wash study for this unpublished Liber Studiorum composition shows a cathedral-like building probably based on York Minster (Studies for Liber sketchbook, Tate D08100; Turner Bequest CXV 47), Turner modified the composition when he came to etch the outline, to show the more compact profile of Eton College Chapel. As Gillian Forrester suggests, he may have referred back to slight studies in the Windsor, Eton sketchbook, both for the chapel (Tate D06075, D06076; Turner Bequest XCVII 4, 5) and the plough (D06161; XCVII 81a).
Forrester also notes that Turner may have begun working on this agricultural subject for the Liber after the 1813 publication of an etching after his watercolour of the mid-1790s, Autumn – Sowing Grain (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),1 in John Hassell’s drawing manual Aqua Pictura.2 In turn this may have reminded him of its companion watercolour, Ploughing (Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino),3 which includes the back view of a ploughboy holding a whip, as etched by Turner in the present work.4 The patriotic connotations of ploughing, and the implications of peaceful bucolic activities emphasised by the presence of a woman and child, may perhaps be related to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, at about the time the design was first conceived.5 Turner often depicted sites in the Thames Valley in idyllic, idealised form,6 with a ‘juxtaposition of elevated architecture and humble agricultural toil.’7
Turner first drew the subject with the woman and child on the right and the ploughman approaching from the left (Tate D08100; Turner Bequest CXV 47). When he came to etch the composition, he copied the orientation of the figures directly from the drawing, such that they were reversed in the various subsequent prints. The printing history of the design and the various changes made to the figures and landscape at each stage are complex, and not clarified by the various proofs or states being numbered differently in the two editions of Rawlinson’s Liber catalogue and recorded under a different system by Finberg.8
Fundamentally, there were three plates, all worked on by Thomas Lupton (including one after Turner’s death). The present work is an impression of Turner’s first outline etching, worked over in brown watercolour washes as a guide to Lupton for his work on the original plate; it is the only known proof with the full composition etched in, as the plate was subsequently reworked by scraping-out of the woman and child, at which point it was abandoned.9 A second plate was then undertaken, apparently etched by both Turner and Lupton and engraved by the latter, repeating the design. On one proof Turner reworked the woman’s head in bodycolour to show her in profile wearing a white bonnet (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, M23201), and the plate was altered accordingly, but no proofs from Turner’s lifetime are known – the impression W.G. Rawlinson presented to the British Museum had been printed for him in 1880.10 After Turner’s death Lupton made a third attempt at the design (which Rawlinson thought had been at least partly accomplished by ‘some photographic or other mechanical process’);11 he reverted after one proof to showing the back of the woman’s bare head12 as set out in Turner’s first washed etching (the present work). There are also various permutations in the baskets and bundles on the bank where the woman sits, the attitude of her legs, the presence or absence of the child’s toy windmill and the position of the ploughboy’s whip. Lupton also noticeably raised the chapel in relation to the figures and foreground in his final interpretation.
The composition is recorded, as ‘Ploughing’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.13
As detailed above, Turner himself worked on two prints of this composition. The first, etched by him, was abandoned; the second, an etching and mezzotint engraving with etching attributed to Turner and Thomas Lupton, was engraved by the latter. They were among the unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91;14 see also Tate D08170–D08173, D08175–D08178, D25451; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, CCLXIII 328, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P, Q, R, S, V, W, X; and Tate N02782, N03631). Tate does not hold any impressions.
The present work may have been retained by Thomas Lupton,15 and was in Henry Vaughan’s collection by 1878.16
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.318 no.173, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, pp.34, 143.
Wilton 1979, p.318 no.172, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, p.34.
Ibid., p.143; see also p.29.
See many examples in David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
Forrester 1996, p.137.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.155–7 no.79; 1906, pp.180–2 no.79; Finberg 1924, pp.315–18 no.79.
Finberg 1924, reproduced p.[316] (below).
Ibid., reproduced p.317.
Rawlinson 1878, p.157.
Impressions include one reproduced in [Grenville Lindall Winthrop], A Catalogue of the Collection of Prints from the Liber Studiorum of Joseph Mallord William Turner, Formed by the Late Francis Bullard of Boston Massachusetts and Bequeathed by him to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Boston 1916, p.167 [Boston M23203].
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Forrester 1996, p.143.
Rawlinson 1878, p.155.
Technical notes:
The paper has been flattened during conservation or storage, which has compressed the ink lines; the ink includes brown, black and red pigments. Warm brown and cooler sepia-like washes have been used on top in limited areas, with the lights scratched out with a pin or etching needle and the darks strengthened with further wash. The overall colour is a combination of warm and cool browns, resulting from the use of an umber pigment, possibly together with a sepia shade.1 There is rough pencil scribble over the plough wheel and the woman’s knees. There are pin holes at various points: two at each corner of the plate-mark; one at the top left and one at the top right of the border; another below the centre of the lower edge of the plate-mark; two at the top centre of the sheet; the two top corners have further holes and are slightly damaged; and the bottom left corner is also abraded. Both the left and right edges of the sheet have previously been folded back by about 26 mm, and are rubbed and darkened.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXVIII T Pl 79’ top left, and ‘D08174’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Ploughing, Eton c.1818–22 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-ploughing-eton-r1131780, accessed 21 August 2014.