Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Old Woman in a Cottage Kitchen (‘Internal of a Cottage, a Study at Ely’)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 204 × 270 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XXIX X

Display caption

This painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1796, along with Turner's first exhibited oil, 'Fishermen at Sea' (represented in this display by a photograph on the facing wall), which also features a dramatic scheme of light within a dark space. Here Turner's Picturesque interest in rustic domesticity has been developed through the influence of the tonalities and parallel subject matter of seventeenth century Dutch genre painting. This is perhaps directly acknowledged by the inclusion of a piece of blue and white Delft style pottery in the left foreground.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

In this work the wove paper is now a deep cream colour but originally was white. Graphite pencil drawing in visible where there are areas of thin paint. Heavy even washes have been overlain rather than mixed to create the colours in this work. Black has been used for the dark areas. The bricks and wickerwork have been depicted with single, well-planned and well-placed dabs in two successive colours. Washing-out with a brush loaded with plain water was used to create the light areas. Pigments used include brown and yellow ochres and indigo.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

The identification of this work with that exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 is generally accepted; no other plausible candidate is known. Assuming that the identification with the ‘study at Ely’ is correct, the subject must have been noted during the 1794 tour; as no preparatory sketch is known, it is likely that this watercolour was worked up over an outline drawing made on the spot. It was thought in the nineteenth century to show Turner’s mother in the kitchen at Maiden Lane, Covent Garden.
As an exercise in chiaroscuro this marks a significant development in Turner’s technical progress. He had already essayed a firelit interior at the age of fifteen or thereabouts (Tate D00187; Turner Bequest XVII L); as one would expect, this shows increased subtlety and flexibility in the relation between outline and tone; and the subject forms a kind of prelude to the sequence of dramatically lit ecclesiastical interiors that he was to produce in the next few years. Indeed, two of the finest of these, showing the interior of the Octagon at Ely Cathedral (private collection; Aberdeen Art Gallery)1 were based on a pencil drawing made on this Midland tour (Tate D00369; Turner Bequest XXII P).
Wilton 1979, p.321 nos.194 and 195 respectively, reproduced.
Technical notes:
Like the view of Llangollen, Tate D00861 (Turner Bequest XXXII E), this work was mounted on thin card washed with grey; this has now been trimmed away to a width of only about 5 mm. Turner touched it at top and bottom with dark colour, presumably to fill the frame he had put the drawing into for exhibition.
Blank; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram; inscribed in a later hand ‘10’.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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