Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Old Oak, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 239 × 307 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 174

Catalogue entry

This vignette, An Old Oak was published in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems and appears as the head-piece to a poem entitled, ‘To an Old Oak’.1 It is a pair with another illustration, Shipbuilding (An Old Oak Dead), which appears as the tail-piece to the same poem (see Tate D27692; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 175). Both prints were engraved by Edward Goodall.2 The poem tells the story of the life and death of an oak tree. This scene illustrates the third stanza of the poem, which describes the tree as the centre of rural village life. Turner marked the passage with pencil in the margin of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI p.188):
Then Culture came, and days serene;
And village-sports, and garlands gay.
Full of many a pathway crossed the green;
And maids and shepherd-youths were seen
To celebrate the May.
(Poems, p.177)
Turner provides a festive scene of springtime celebrations taking place around, and even within, the oak. In the foreground a group of young people are dancing underneath the spread of its branches, in sprightly contrast to the old man leaning against the foot on the right. Meanwhile, at the top of the tree are four boys who have scaled its heights.
Turner produced one preliminary study for this subject (see Tate D27533; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 16). There is also a pencil sketch of a tree on the verso of CCLXXX 175 which is possible related.
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.176.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A, vol.II, London 1913, no.391. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T05117).
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘17’ and ‘25’ top centre and ‘16 | a’ centre right and ‘CCLXXX.174’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 174’ centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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