Joseph Mallord William Turner

Hedging and Ditching


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 184 × 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII W

Display caption

This image, which Turner described as a ‘Pastoral’, shows a landscape of the England (‘Albion’) of Blake’s day. It does not conform exactly to the words ‘Albions lovely land’ which Blake inscribed on the proof frontispiece to the book Jerusalem also shown in this display. Showing men hard at work it is not a scene from the Golden Age of man’s innocence. But the future return of the Golden Age is implied in the concluding words of  the hymn Jerusalem: that of peace built in our ‘green & pleasant land’.    

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and J.C. Easling, ‘Hedging and Ditching’, published Turner, 23 May 1812
Along with Hind Head Hill, St Catherine’s Hill near Guildford and Water Mill (see Tate D08130, D08137, D08140; Turner Bequest CXVII C, J, M) this Liber Studiorum composition is derived from sketches in the Spithead sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest C), generally thought to have been made on Turner’s round trip from London to Portsmouth in October and November 1807.1 In this case, the source is a very slight drawing (D06571; C 47), which appears to record only the two figures second and fourth from left in the present work; the man at the lower left and the woman were either recalled from memory or invented. The woman is reminiscent of some of the back views in the 1801 Scotch Figures sketchbook (for example Tate D03447; Turner Bequest LIX 7, LXXVIII), and 1802 Swiss Figures sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXVIII), although this is probably fortuitous.
The processes of hedging and ditching were conspicuous signs of the process of enclosure of agricultural land, which had gathered momentum in the eighteenth century.2 In Modern Painters, Ruskin’s usual interpretation of Turner’s mood in the Liber led him to describe the composition and its tree-like inhabitants,
with its bleak sky and blighted trees – hacked, and bitten, and starved by the clay soil into something between trees and firewood; its meanly-faced, sickly labourers – pollard labourers, like the willow trunk they hew; and the slatternly peasant-woman, with worn cloak and battered bonnet – an English Dryad [an ironic evocation of mythological wood nymphs].3
In an unpublished passage, he expanded on the condition of the trees themselves in anthropomorphic terms:
the expression of steady commonplace-character in a bitter world. Some capacities of grace about the poor things once, had they been left to themselves or pruned wisely; some remnants of it even yet, ... for the most part hacked and blighted and cropped or withered away, hardly knowing whether they are still trees or only firewood. There is no tragedy allowed them neither, no pity to be had from anybody; they never can have had polite people to look at them. Advisable agricultural operations going on, bleak wind, angry clouds and vulgar people, penned, uncomfortable sheep – such life must they still bud and blossom for as best may be.4
See Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, p.138.
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.38.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.433.
Ibid., ‘Appendix II. Additional Passages from the MS. of “Modern Painters,” Vol. V. 1. Character in Trees’, pp.479–80.
Brooke 1885, pp.159, 160.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.236, 586.
Notes by Mr. Ruskin. ... On his Drawings by the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A. ..., exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 1878, in ibid., XIII 1904, p.434.
Forrester 1996, pp.29, 109, 140.
Ibid., p.109.
Brooke 1885, p.158.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.6–8, 97–106; 1906, pp.[9]–11, 114–24; Finberg 1924, pp.1–4, 185–204.
Forrester 1996, pp.70, 71 note 1, 109 (paper analysis by Peter Bower, and pigment analysis by Joyce Townsend, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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