Joseph Mallord William Turner

Eton College from the River Thames

c.1827

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 112 x 192 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D20610
Turner Bequest CCXXVI 10

Catalogue entry

Eton College, founded by Henry VI in 1440 and dominated by the Perpendicular Gothic chapel he had built over the next two decades1 is here seen from the east, with the River Thames in the foreground. Perhaps owing to Finberg’s surely unintentional misidentification of this subject as ‘Windsor’,2 it does not appear to have been recognised previously as relating to the watercolour Eton College of about 1829 (currently untraced),3 engraved for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales in 1831 (Tate impressions: T04576, T04577).
The artist had first addressed the subject in 1787 (Tate D00003; Turner Bequest I C), copying a print by Paul Sandby. By 1799 he was making a pencil study (Tate D02212; Turner Bequest XLVII 35) in preparation for an engraved view of 1803 (Tate impression: T05941). In 1805 he drew the school in the Wey, Guildford sketchbook (including Tate D06344, D06354, D06358; Turner Bequest XCVIII 129a, 134a, 136a), and a little later in the Windsor and Eton sketchbook (Tate D06075–D06081; Turner Bequest XCVII 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). His painting The Thames at Eton was exhibited in 1808 (Tate T03873; on display at Petworth House, West Sussex).4
He later developed the subject for the Liber Studiorum around 1818–22 (Tate D08174; Turner Bequest CXVIII T), and there is another view in the Naples, Paestum and Rome sketchbook, largely in use in 1819 (Tate D16087; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 90a).
A drawing probably made around the same year if not on the same occasion as the present one, in the Windsor and St Anne’s Hill sketchbook (Tate D20564; Turner Bequest CCXXV 4a), shows the same prospect with the buildings shown rather more precisely, and was presumably the key source for the watercolour, although the loose, writhing forms in the left foreground here are translated into corresponding willow trees in the finished design. One of the Wey, Guildford sketches (D06344) is notable in showing the same aspect, albeit in less detail still, with the buildings and trees roughly hatched to suggest the sun coming from behind them in late afternoon and with more prominent trees on each side, as developed in the England and Wales view; Turner possibly looked back at the 1805 sketch, combining its evocative composition with the architectural details noted around 1827.
1
See ‘A brief history of Eton College’, Eton College, accessed 6 March 2014, http://www.etoncollege.com/briefhistory.aspx?nid=37777882-2882-40dd-a671-cc2c68fcc399.
2
Finberg 1909, II, p.695.
3
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.397 no.830, reproduced.
4
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.55 no.71, pl.81.

Matthew Imms
November 2015

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