Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Group of Figures Fishing; Houses by the River Severn; the West End of Worcester Cathedral


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 191 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXXIX 4 a

Catalogue entry

The three drawings here were made with the page turned vertically. At the top is a group of figures among trees. The vertical line towards the right and the curving diagonal stemming from the figure on the right suggest fishing rods, and they are perhaps angling on the River Severn near Worcester, the subject of the views below. For other figure studies in this sketchbook, see the entry for inside the front cover (D41053); see in particular the study of an angler on folio 69 verso (D18591; Turner Bequest CCXI 42), and the man in a top hat on folio 5 recto opposite (D22158). Fishing was a favourite hobby of Turner’s.1
The middle subject, of houses above a river bank, appears to be inscribed ‘Severn Ferry’ and is presumably at or in the vicinity of Worcester, the subject of the lower sketch as identified by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) and the watercolour and Turner scholar C.F. Bell (died 1966) in undated manuscript notes in copies of Finberg’s 1909 Inventory.2 This shows buildings near the river to the south-west of Worcester Cathedral, with the cathedral’s tower carried up to the right of the middle drawing.
The site has since been cleared of various structures north of the surviving Watergate, as can be seen in comparison with a watercolour study by Joseph Farington (1747–1821) showing a wider view of the cathedral and the buildings on this side in about 1789 (Tate T08447), and some of the sketches at the other end of this sketchbook from folio 81 verso onwards (D22300; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX 80a). Turner’s own watercolour Worcester Cathedral, West Front of about 1794–5 (British Museum),3 based on a pencil drawing (Indianapolis Museum of Art), shows the building with the little oriel turret recorded here to the left of centre. For other views of Worcester, see under folio 2 verso (D22154).
The main inscription, not mentioned by Finberg, comprises about a dozen words of poetry, written with the page turned horizontally, along the top edge: ‘[...]ed [‘as the’ inserted above] Star of Eve ere [?Twylight] comes | Ch[... ?thy ... ?to ...] who would’. There is a similarly worded attempt above the sketch on folio 3 recto (D22155), and longer passages on folios 70 recto and verso and 71 recto (D22277–D22279; Turner Bequest CCXXXIX 69, 69a, 70), under the last of which their significance is discussed.

Matthew Imms
April 2014

See James Hamilton, ‘Fishing’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.110.
A.J. Finberg, undated MS notes in a copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, vol.II, p.733; C.F. Bell, undated MS notes in another copy at the same location, vol.II, p.733; confirmed by Ian Warrell in notes from 1993 and later in Tate catalogue files.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.308 no.67, pl.16.

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