Joseph Mallord William Turner

Cattle on the Bank of a River, with Boats Passing


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 98 × 162 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CIV 46 a

Catalogue entry

The subject, drawn the sketchbook inverted, is continued on folio 48 (D06919; Turner Bequest CIV 47). This one of three versions of this composition, the others being on folio 48 verso (D06920; Turner Bequest CIV 47a) and across folios 49 verso–50 (D06922–D06923; Turner Bequest CIV 48–49). These, especially D06920, served as the basis for a picture (Tate N01857) which, according to Butlin and Joll, is the slightly less likely of two possible candidates for a ‘Sketch of Cows, &c’ exhibited at Turner’s Gallery in 1809.1 The painting is consistent with that date stylistically and with Turner’s current interest in the luminous golden colouring and pastoral subjects of the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp. However it is perhaps too finished to have been exhibited as a ‘Sketch’ and is also larger than Turner’s usual size for such a subject even in finished pictures.
These factors indicate that the subject had some importance for Turner but its location is unclear in the context of this sketchbook and of what is known of Turner’s travels in 1808 (see Introduction). Noting that the drawings of this composition ‘follow’ others of the River Dee as correctly identified by Finberg, Butlin and Joll suggest that the river ‘may therefore also be the scene of [the] painting’. However, as Turner made the drawings with the sketchbook inverted, he was probably working through it from the back at this point. The presence of barges and cargo suggests a substantial river. If the Dee this must be the estuary, which would be possible if Turner’s route into Wales or northwards from Tabley to Lancashire and Yorkshire took him via Chester and involved a diversion to the west. Perhaps more likely is that in Wales he continued as far as the coast, perhaps to Barmouth and the Mawddach Estuary. The components of the Tate picture, including boats, cattle, sandy shore-line and distant mountains can be compared to those in a watercolour by John Sell Cotman, Cader Idris from Barmouth Sands (Eton College), which had probably been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1804.

David Blayney Brown
May 2010

Butlin and Joll 1984, p.63 no.84 (pl.94); for the other possible exhibit, see ibid., pp.62–3 no.83 (pl.93).
Ibid., p.68 no.92 (pl.102).

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