Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Figure at the Entrance to Dow Cave, near Kettlewell, Upper Wharfedale


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 125 × 206 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXLVII 1

Catalogue entry

This sketch shows a figure, possibly a guide, standing beneath the entrance arch a little way into the cave looking down the first major boulder slope towards the depths. The present entrance is much more constricted than it appears here.
Dow Cave is about a mile north of Kettlewell in Upper Wharfedale, towards the beginning of Turner’s itinerary on this tour, and this must have been the first sketch he made in this book. The cave is now one of the most popular potholes in Britain, being one end of the famous Dowbergill passage, a rift running under Great Whernside to Providence Pot. It was already something of an attraction in 1816 and had been mentioned (as ‘Dove Cave’, the name used by Turner) by Thomas Dunham Whitaker in his History of Craven first published in 1805; Turner was presumably now exploring the possibilities of an illustration for a new edition as part of Whitaker’s proposed seven-volume General History of the County of York. Sketches in the Yorkshire 2 sketchbook (Tate D11315–D11309; Turner Bequest CXLV 158–155) record a foray into the depths of the cave, and another in the present book (D11444) examines the valley at its mouth.
The present writer has previously suggested a possible relationship between Turner’s 1816 sketches of Dow Cave and the watercolour A Rocky Pool, with a Heron and Kingfisher (Leeds Museums and Art Galleries).1 There is no close connection, however, and the watercolour is based on an earlier sketch in the Scottish Pencils series of 1801 (Tate D03431; Turner Bequest LVIII 52), which would argue for a Scottish subject.
Hill, Warburton and Tussey 1980, p.32.
Technical notes:
When Finberg catalogued the sketchbook in 1909 the sketch was correctly bound in the book as folio 1 recto. The blue ink inscriptions prove that it was originally the first folio recto, and moreover the figure drawn here extends onto the right edge of the inside front cover (D41497). At some stage since Finberg, and for unrecorded reasons, the folio was reversed in the binding, and the verso stamped as ‘CXLVII 1’. In the present binding, the original order has been restored.

David Hill
February 2009

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop