Joseph Mallord William Turner

Hind Head Hill


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 182 × 259 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII C

Display caption

Between 1807 and 1819, Turner executed a series of works to be engraved for his series of landscape prints known as the Liber Studiorum. The landscapes were divided into six categories, which Turner saw as covering all the forms of landscape recognised at the time: marine, architectural, mountainous, historical, pastoral and ideal landscapes.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Etching, mezzotint and drypoint by Turner and Robert Dunkarton, ‘Hind Head Hill. | On the Portsmouth Road’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
Hindhead, Surrey, lies on the main Portsmouth to London road, about thirteen miles south-west of Guildford. To its east, Gibbet Hill rises above the Devil’s Punchbowl to a height of 894 feet (272 metres). Much of the surrounding heathland, common grazing land in Turner’s time, is owned by the National Trust. In the 1780s, when the area was wild and comparatively isolated, three footpads had murdered a sailor here; their gibbet stood on the hill well into the nineteenth century, and the site was later marked by the Sailor’s Stone.1
Along with St Catherine’s Hill near Guildford, Water Mill and Hedging and Ditching (see Tate D08137, D08140, D08151; Turner Bequest CXVII J, M, W) this Liber Studiorum composition is derived from sketches made in the Spithead sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest C), and generally considered as a by-product of a round trip from London to Portsmouth in October and November 1807.2 The Hindhead studies (Tate D06574, D06576, D06578, D06580; Turner Bequest C 48a, 49a, 50a, 51a) are extremely slight; the Liber composition combines the horizon line of hills in C 49a and the valley in C 50a, with the addition of the common in the foreground. Both sketches give a summary indication of the gibbet which becomes the focus of the design.
Turner was moved by the atmosphere and history of the site to compose some verses inside the back cover of the Spithead sketchbook (Tate D40614):
Hind head tho[u] cloud-capt winded hill
In every wind that heaven does fill
On thy dark hearth [?heath] the traveller mourns
Ice[y] night approach & ...groans
The low wan sun has downwards sunk
The steamy Vale looks dark and dank
The doubtful road scarce [...] seen
Nor sky lights give the doubtful green
But all seem[s] d[r]ear & horror
Hark the kreaking irons
Hark the screeching owl3
In the present drawing, three ragged bodies or skeletons are shown swinging from the gibbet in the wind, whereas in the published mezzotint a body hangs vertically at each end silhouetted against bright clouds; Gillian Forrester has suggested that Turner may have recognised a fortuitous opportunity for a visual pun on the initial of his surname.4
The National Trust, accessed 8 December 2005,; see also Wilton 1980, p.110; and Forrester 1996, p.74.
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.
As transcribed in Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.156; see also pp.41–2.
Forrester 1996, p.74.
Ibid., pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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