Joseph Mallord William Turner

Harvest Home


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on wood
Support: 905 × 1203 mm
frame: 1200 × 1490 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This unfinished painting probably depicts a harvest meal on the Earl of Essex's Hertfordshire estate, Cassiobury Park. The smartly dressed black man standing on the left of the composition is George Edward Doney, the Earl’s butler. The picture may have been commissioned by the Earl as a memorial to his much-loved servant, who had recently died. Turner’s drawing for the painting shows he originally planned an outdoor setting. He made notes about depicting ‘men half drunk’ and those waiting to be served looking ‘eager and cunning’.

Gallery label, July 2020

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Catalogue entry

209. [N00562] Harvest Home c. 1809

Oil, 35 5/8 × 47 1/2 (90·5 × 120·5) on pine, 35 5/8 × 48 5/16 (90·5 × 122·8); there is an additional strip of wood, unpainted, 7/16 (1·2) along the top edge.

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (260, ‘1 (Harvest Home) panel’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. Tate Gallery 1931 (31).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, pp. 289, 349; 1877, pp. 425, 467; Eastlake 1895, i, pp. 188–9; Armstrong 1902, p. 222; MacColl 1920, p. 27; Davies 1946, p. 190; Gage 1980, p. 253; Marks 1981, pp. 357–9, pl. 11.

Probably the picture seen by Elizabeth Rigby, later Lady Eastlake, in Turner's studio on 20 May 1846; ‘a picture in Wilkie's line—a harvest feast—painted the same year as Wilkie's ‘Rent Day’, and showing most astonishing powers and truth; but he [Turner] was disgusted at some remarks, and never finished it.’ Wilkie's The Rent Day is dated 1807 and was exhibited at the R.A. in 1809 (see exh. cat. Sir David Wilkie R.A. 1958, p. 15 no. 9). However, Arthur Marks follows Thornbury in suggesting that Turner was setting out to rival Wilkie's Village Festival, painted 1810–12 and one of the two main works in Wilkie's one-man show of 1812 rather than being shown, as had been hoped, at the Royal Academy. Marks points to the particular motif of the black man, seen on the left-hand side of both pictures, as well as the general similarities in subject and composition. He therefore suggests a dating for Turner's picture of c. 1812 rather than the c. 1809 suggested in the first edition of this catalogue.

However, against these arguments for a later dating David Hill has discovered evidence that suggests that both this painting and No. 209a [N04663] were intended for Lord Essex. A large composition sketch (CXX-C), in which the figures are set outdoors but which is accompanied by a long description of the incidents in the picture, is annotated ‘Ld Essex's Harvest Home’, and there is a companion sketch (CXX-D) for No. 209a.[N04663] David Hill suggests that the ‘remarks’ that caused this picture, and its companion, to remain unfinished were those made by Thomas Hearne about Trout Fishing in the Dee (No. 92, q.v.), which was exhibited in 1809.

There are also a number of related drawings both for the composition and for individual figures or groups of figures in the ‘Harvest Home’ sketchbook (LXXXVI-2, 3, 4 verso, 5 and 6).

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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