Joseph Mallord William Turner

England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday

exhibited 1819

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1800 × 3346 mm
frame: 2140 × 3700 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This painting depicts a London view, looking across Richmond Hill towards Twickenham. The Examiner newspaper described it at the time as ‘a pictorial display of the magnificence of England’. The painting was Turner’s attempt to attract the patronage of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. The prince was an increasingly unpopular figure, due to his extravagant lifestyle and his poor treatment of his wife, Caroline. Turner failed to get royal support, and his picture was seen as a bit pretentious. Looked at in the context of the political upheaval of 1819, Turner’s idyllic landscape could be accused of being strikingly out of touch.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry

140. [N00502] England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent's Birthday Exh. 1819

Canvas, 70 7/4 × 131 3/4 (180 × 334·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (1, ‘Richmond Hill’ 11'0" × 5'11"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. R.A. 1819 (206); Turner's gallery 1835; R.A. 1974–5 (167); Paris 1983–4 (34, repr. in colour and, colour detail, p. 22); Birmingham 1984.

Lit. Farington Diary 2 May 1819; Ruskin 1857 (1903–12, xiii, pp. 127, 135); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 301; 1877, p. 436; Hamerton 1879, pp. 169–70; Bell 1901, pp. 102–3 no. 143; Armstrong 1902, pp. 227; Whitley 1928, p. 300; Davies 1946, p. 185; Finberg 1961, pp. 259, 481 no. 251; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 32–4, pl. 55; Lindsay 1966, p. 157; Gage 1969, p. 167; Reynolds 1969, pp. 106–8, pl. 86; Ziff 1971, p. 126; Herrmann 1975, pp. 26, 230–31, pl. 83; Wilton 1979, p. 132, pl. 134; Gage 1980, p. 261; Stuckey 1981, pp. 4–6, pl. 5.

Exhibited with the following lines;

‘Which way, Amanda, shall we bend our course?
The choice perplexes. Wherefore should we chuse?
All is the same with thee. Say, shall we wind
Along the streams? or walk the smiling mead?
Or court the forest-glades? or wander wild
Among the waving harvests? or ascend,
While radiant Summer opens all its pride,
Thy Hill, delightful Shene?’


The verses, from Thomson's Seasons, ‘Summer’, II. 1401–8, continue, after the reference to Sheen, by describing the various places that can be seen from Richmond Hill, including a reference to

‘... the matchless vale of Thames;
Fair-winding up to where the muses haunt
In Twit'nam's bowers, and for their Pope implore
The healing god; ...’ (ll. 1425–8).

This reference to the stretch of river seen in the picture also links it with Turner's earlier pictures Pope's Villa (which is situated in Twickenham) and Thomson's Æolian Harp (Nos. 72 and 86).

The large size of this picture is all the more surprising in view of its domestic, pastoral subject. Like the later What you Will (No. 229), the subject may reflect in part the effect of French eighteenth-century painting: Jerrold Ziff has pointed out that several of the figures are based on a sketch in the ‘Hints River’ sketchbook of c.1815 after Watteau's L'lle Enchantée (CXLI-26 verso and 27; see Ziff's review of Gage 1969, 1971). The same sketchbook also contains drawings of the general view from Richmond Hill (10 verso-13), as does the ‘Hastings to Margate’ sketchbook of about the same date (CXL-77 to 82). There are also a number of unfinished watercolours and colour beginnings in the British Museum of various dates, as well as the finished watercolours in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, and in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the first engraved in 1826 for The Literary Souvenir, the second in 1838 for Picturesque Views in England and Wales (see Wilton 1979, nos. 518, pl. 135, and 879, repr., and exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, nos. 199–202, all repr.).

More closely related is the unfinished oil of the same view in Turner's normal large format, 58 × 93 3/4 in. (No. 227 [N05546]). There are only a few figures in the foreground and the painting was presumably abandoned when Turner turned to the unprecedented scale of the finished picture, perhaps inspired by the idea of doing homage to the Prince Regent, a possible and highly desirable patron.

Charles Stuckey has pointed out that in 1818 the Prince Regent had in fact ridden up to Richmond Hill from Kew Palace on 10 August, two days before his actual birthday, but that, perhaps more significantly, his official birthday was celebrated on his name day, St George's Day, 23 April, Turner's (and Shakespeare's) own birthday, when he was in London. Turner has shown a bright August afternoon but may well have also intended to celebrate his own birthday; his own country cottage, Sandycombe Lodge, falls within the picture, which shows the familiar and much painted view to the west over Twickenham rather than that to the north and Kew Palace. Stuckey has also suggested (1981, loc. cit.) that this picture was one of a number specifically aimed at procuring Royal patronage (see also Nos. 114, 247–248b, 252, 385, 392).

This is one of the first of Turner's R.A. exhibits in connection with which there is some hint of his activities on the three Varnishing Days, granted to Academicians to give final touches to their pictures before the exhibition opened to the public. On 2 May 1819 Farington recorded criticism of the effect of ‘the flaming colour of Turner's pictures’ on their neighbours, immediately following this with a reference to ‘the pernicious effects arising from Painters working upon their pictures in the Exhibition by which they often render them unfit for a private room’ (reprinted in Gage 1969, p. 167). The Repository of the Arts for June 1819, though liking the picture less than Entrance of the Meuse (No. 139 [N00501]), praised ‘the foreground beautifully worked up, and the azure blue of the distances modified in all the gradations of aerial perspective’. The Annals of the Fine Arts, on the other hand, recommended Turner ‘to pumice it down, give it a coat of priming, and paint such another picture as his building of Carthage’ (No. 131 [N00498]). For a contemporary account by a French visitor, A.J.B. Defauconpret, see John Gage in exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, p. 99.

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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