Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Landscape with a Building ?by Water at Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 247 × 313 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 193

Catalogue entry

The darkening, little-developed forms of this landscape are difficult to interpret except for a sense of low hills and perhaps a stretch of inland water in the fluidly worked area at the bottom right. The most prominent feature is a pale building, which appears to be lit by a source in the foreground; a small reserved area to its right suggests a fire, perhaps within a dark archway. While Eric Shanes has suggested it may be a ‘country forge’,1 Gerald Wilkinson has more poetically characterised it as a ‘cold sunset in a lonely place. If that is the gleam of sea on the right and those are dunes at the left, the place must be on the northern coast of France.’2 Andrew Wilton has specifically if tentatively mentioned the composition in the context of the ‘Little Liber’, suggesting at the same time without further elaboration that the scene may be Italian.3
Whatever the meaning of the glowing building, it may be that Turner had in the back of his mind another pale building at dusk, The White House at Chelsea in the 1800 watercolour by his short-lived contemporary Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), which remained something of a touchstone.4
The dark areas have a velvety effect, and palm prints are evident below the horizon, effectively mimicking the dense cross-hatched tones of mezzotint engraving. The same improvised technique is apparent in Tate D25374 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 252) in this subsection. A thin sliver of reserved white paper along the horizon further emphasises the gathering darkness.
Shanes 1997, p.98.
Wilkinson 1975, p.114.
Wilton 1975, p.72.
For Turner and the White House see for example Susan Morris, ‘Girtin, Thomas (1775–1802)’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.126.
Blank; laid down.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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