Joseph Mallord William Turner

A River Bank, with Figures


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 193 × 275 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXX I

Catalogue entry

It is difficult to make out the intended subject of this rough Liber Studiorum-type sketch in terms of the figures to the right, who may be fishing, bathing or laundering. There are slight riverside compositions in the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV), and the river or lake scene Tate D08187 (Turner Bequest CXVIII g) is comparable in its handling.
This sheet was once part of a larger one, later divided into four,1 each quarter of which Turner worked on in watercolour. In relation to the others, the composition was originally at the bottom right. However, it seems likely that it and Tate D08108 (Turner Bequest CXVI G) were separated from the sheet before being worked on, as there is no sign of washes from either overlapping onto adjoining quarters (Tate D08109, D25373; Turner Bequest CXVI H, CCLXIII 251). The present work and D25373 (CCLXIII 251) share the single watermark ‘Whatman | Turkey Mills | 1822’, but although the latter was listed in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory among the ‘Colour Beginnings’ of 1820–30,2 this quarter – with only the ‘18’ of the watermark visible – was placed in a miscellaneous section dated to circa 1802–10,3 while the others were catalogued among the first grouping of Liber drawings (D08108 and D08109; CXVI G, H), dated to circa 1806–10.4
The washes were employed quite dryly for the clouds, and applied wetter for the trees; globules of wash are apparent at the top left. There is washing-out at the lower left, with reeds subsequently brushed in. Reserves were kept for the figures on the right, with some brown brushstrokes to define them against the distant, greyish trees;. With their similar techniques and overall colouring, this and D08108 (CXVI G) appear more closely related to the earlier Liber drawings than do the two other separated works. As Gillian Forrester notes, such works ‘may be ideas for pure mezzotint’ or ‘may not have been made with print-making in mind at all.’5 If there is a direct connection between any of these works and the Liber, it is possible that they date to circa 1824, around the time Turner was working on other unpublished designs, such as The Felucca (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) and Moonlight on the Medway (Tate D25451; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328).
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.
Finberg 1909, II, p.833.
Ibid., I, p.328.
Ibid., I, p.316.
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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