Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figures at Fence with Dog; Possible Study for ‘The Pleasures of Hope’ for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 178 × 227 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 62

Catalogue entry

This work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches that appear to be experimental preparatory designs for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell.1 Despite the loose, schematic nature of the study it is possible to identify several figures standing beside a fence, with a small house and trees in the background. In the centre of the foreground stands a little dog, its alert manner effectively conveyed with sparing brushstrokes. The subject reflects lines from the poem ‘The Pleasures of Hope’, in which Campbell describes an impoverished vagabond who gazes longingly at a homely cottage and garden:
Yon friendless man, at whose dejected eye
Th’unfeeling proud one looks – and passes by,
Condemn’d on Penury’s barren path to roam,
Scorned by the world, and left without a home –
Even he, at evening, should he chance to stray
Down by the hamlet’s hawthorn-scented way,
Where, round the cot’s romantic glade, are seen
The blossom’d bean-field, and the sloping green,
Leans o’er its humble gate, and thinks the while –
Oh! that for me some home like this would smile,
Some hamlet shade, to yield my sickly form
Health in the breeze, and shelter in the storm!
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, p.11)
As Jan Piggott has observed, the details of the figures by the fence, the distant cottage and the dog in the foreground are closely derived from an illustration by Edward Francis Burney (1760–1848) published to accompany the same lines in Longman’s 1816 edition of the poem.2 Although Turner clearly considered creating a variation on Burney’s composition, he eventually abandoned the idea. Little is known about how the individual subjects were selected, making it difficult to account for his decision to reject this earlier design.3 Instead he produced three different illustrations for ‘The Pleasures of Hope’: Summer Eve – The Rainbow, The Andes Coast, and Kosciusko circa 1835 (all National Gallery of Scotland).4
All of the studies related to Campbell’s Poetical Works are painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This work was one of a parcel described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.5 For an explanation of his meaning for ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes above. Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.6
Piggott 1993, pp.95–6.
Thomas Campbell, The Pleasures of Hope with Other Poems, London 1816, p.[24]; Piggott 1993, p.96.
Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.53.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, nos.1271, 1272 and 1273; reproduced in colour in Campbell 1993, pp.55–6.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi.
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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