Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Isel Hall and the River Derwent


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 116 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CX 7

Catalogue entry

Finberg read a note in the left distance of this view as ‘Cross Fell’, which certainly appears on folio 6 of this sketchbook (D07544). However, a house like the one seen here in the right distance has not so far been identified in a position by a river from which the fell would be visible; the likely site would be on the Eden or Leamont rivers. Instead, it looks like Isel Hall, which is set on a wooded slope overlooking the Derwent a short distance to the north-east of Cockermouth. If the little peaks on the roof are chimneys rather than gables, the likeness becomes convincing, while on the right, at a slight angle, is a larger feature that could be Isel’s distinctive pele tower. It seems unlikely that on his expeditions around Cockermouth, to find views of the castle from the best angles to the north (see Introduction to the sketchbook), Turner would not have come across Isel and drawn it.1
Cross Fell is much too far away to be visible from beside the Derwent at Isel but an alternative reading of ‘Crop field’ has been suggested, which would tally with Turner’s other inscriptions describing an idyllic pastoral landscape in summer. The river winding through the foreground has ‘dark water’ at left but is ‘sparkling’ at right, while pasture in the immediate foreground is grazed by ‘sheep’ and is ‘brightest dewy green’. Across the river in front of the ‘dark green’ and ‘misty’ wood are fields of ‘turnips’ and ‘light bright corn’ and clumps of trees with ‘light edges’. The sky passes from ‘Black’ at left through ‘murky’ at centre to a ‘warm yellow ray’ at right.
Thanks are due to Miss Mary Burkett, of Isel Hall, who is inclined to support this identification.

David Blayney Brown
August 2009

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