Joseph Mallord William Turner

Dark Landscape with Trees and Mountains


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Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LI M

Display caption

This is an oil sketch for a historic landscape with a dead or dying
figure. It was based on a drawing
in a sketchbook Turner used in Wales
in 1798. Turner has aimed for warm
and rich colouring, in order to evoke
a sombre mood and a grand effect. Unusually, he first prepared the canvas with a pink ground, in order to deepen the tone of his paint.


Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

34a. [D02380] A Dark Landscape with Trees and Mountains c. 1798–9

Canvas, approx. 12 1/4 × 15 1/4 (31·5 × 39)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856.
Lit. Ziff 1980, p. 167.

Based on a pencil drawing in the ‘Dinevor Castle’ sketchbook, used by Turner in the summer of 1798 (XL-8 verso). This was described by Finberg (1909, p. 94) as ‘Sketch for historical composition: perhaps one of the Plagues of Egypt’, but, although there are several figures in the landscape, this identification seems far-fetched. The figure lying on the ground on the left is itself the subject of a separate drawing on page 73 recto of the same sketchbook, where it is accompanied by a partly erased female figure; Andrew Wilton (verbal communication) has suggested that they represent Pyramus and Thisbe.

In the painting only the figure on the ground remains, with a suggestion of blood as if the figure were dead; no other figures are shown. However, the picture is unfinished, the central tree lacking its full detail; there are other unresolved features, particularly the isolated stroke of paint just to the left of the central tree. Unusually for Turner, the picture is painted over a pink ground.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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