Joseph Mallord William Turner

A River among Wild Rocks and Woods, with a Distant Valley


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 681 × 1009 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXX U

Display caption

While this view has never been identified, it has previously been associated with the Welsh subjects of 1799-1800. Its dark woodland foreground and airy sense of distance, however, perhaps relate it more readily to Turner's work for Beckford. The study seems particularly close to a drawing made at Fonthill (exhibited adjacently) and it may even be an intermediate colour sketch for the finished watercolour derived from this (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Both the Beckford commission and the Welsh tour inspired sublime qualities in Turner's work. This naturally engendered some degree of thematic and technical crossover in the two resulting groups of works, which were executed almost simultaneously.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

The subject is unidentified, but presumably Welsh; this may be an uncompleted finished watercolour rather than a study. The present author has previously speculated that, like Tate D04164 and D04168 (Turner Bequest LXX M, Q) this was intended as a Bardic subject;1 the wild, mysterious atmosphere of the sheet suggests as much, though there is nothing specific to relate to any narrative subject matter.
The general layout of the composition, together with motif of fallen trees, is reminiscent of Turner’s contemporary work at Fonthill, in particular the finished watercolour South View of the Gothic Abbey (Evening) exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 (W.337; Quebec, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), which is based on a sheet in the Fonthill sketchbook (Tate D02190; Turner Bequest XLVII 13). The details of broken tree stems seem to relate to studies of broken branches in the Swans sketchbook, another closely associated with Turner’s stay at Fonthill (D01691–D01694; Turner Bequest XLII 16–17, 18–19); another study of trees (Tate D01812–D01813; Turner Bequest XLII 136–137), is particularly close in composition to this very grand work. A large study more immediately recognizable as showing Fonthill Abbey is Tate D04167 (Turner Bequest LXX P).
Wilton 1984, p.69.
Technical notes:
The sheet is torn and dirty, and mounted by the artist on a second, thicker sheet which has received some washes of colour from the drawing.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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