Joseph Mallord William Turner

Kirkby Lonsdale


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 387 × 485 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVI V

Display caption

Turner visited Yorkshire in 1816. This
was partly in response to a commission from an antiquarian and clergyman named Dr T D Whittaker. He asked
Turner to make a series of designs
to illustrate his topographical volume
The History of Richmondshire.


Dr Whittaker chose several views for Turner to include. This one shows the valley of the River Lune from Kirkby Lonsdale churchyard. The study does
not hint at the foreground detail introduced into the finished watercolour: a group of boys playing in the graveyard.


Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

This study was executed on white wove paper. Sketchy and light pencil under-drawing is evident. The composition is made from brightly-coloured washes which heavily overlap, while light areas in the composition were left blank or have only been very lightly coloured. Some have hard edges because they were applied to dry paper, and others are very diffuse in appearance because the paper was wet. Some of the latter were applied late in the sketching process, in a reversal of Turner’s common practice of soaking the paper first, although their sequence may reflect only the rapidity of the painting process. Some paint has been worked with the artist's fingers, a technique he used regularly in both watercolour and oil medium. The surface is very glossy in places, which suggests the presence of additional gum water, locally applied.
Examination at moderate magnification, up to x40, made it clear that many of the washes were premixed. The identifications of Prussian blue were in fact confirmed by removing a tiny sample the size of a pin-point, and placing it in the sample chamber of a scanning electron microscope, under an X-ray beam. This beam interacts with the elements that make up each pigment, and the resulting spectrum makes it possible to work out which elements are present. If it is already known that the wash contains only one pigment, it is then possible to work out exactly which was used. Visual identifications of these materials – as was done here for vermilion – can then be made on other watercolours, when it is already known from examination at moderate magnification that the wash consists of a pure pigment and not a mixture. In a complex and finished watercolour with multiple overlying washes, it would be foolish to attempt such visual identification.
At this date, Turner experimented with a number of studies using blue, red and yellow. Here he used Prussian blue, which has a clearer, brighter tone than the traditional indigo, vermilion, red lake, and possibly even chrome yellow. This had been patented in 1814 and used by Turner in oil in the same year in Dido and Aeneas (Tate N00494). Its use here would be very early in watercolour, but it was not justifiable to sample from such thin colour washes, to investigate it further. In later decades, Turner would use this pigment extensively, often in colour studies made in blue, red and yellow.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
March 2011

Catalogue entry

This colour study relates to the finished watercolour Kirkby Lonsdale Churchyard,1 engraved by Charles Heath (1785–1848) in 1821 and published as part of Whitaker’s History of Richmondshire (Tate impressions: T04478, T04479, T06052). With its view of the Lune Valley hills and the winding river, it is not surprising that this study was in the past linked to the watercolour Crook of Lune (Courtauld Gallery, London) for which there is a separate colour study (Tate D17199; Turner Bequest CXCVII I). It was identified as one of two colour studies for Kirkby Lonsdale Churchyard by David Hill2 (for the other see Tate D17187; Turner Bequest CXCVI W) and shows the vista known as both ‘Turner’s View’ and ‘Ruskin’s View’.
Hill identifies a pencil sketch made during Turner’s 1816 tour of Yorkshire as the source of both the colour studies and the finally realised watercolour (see the entry for Tate D11528; Turner Bequest CXLVIII 5a, where Hill also notes the significance of Tate D11125; Turner Bequest CXLV 58a).
This colour study sets out the basic composition of the finished watercolour, the winding river, hills beyond and foreground area discernable, with warm yellows and reddish tones used to denote the land and blues splashing across the sky and in the river. Like the other ‘colour beginnings’ in this group, the study presents a sense of the overall composition without the inclusion of foreground detail.
See also the introduction to the Richmondshire ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this study has been assigned.
Wilton 1979, p.366 no.578. Bonhams sale, 25 January 2012 (lot 12).
Hill 1984, pp.31, 92, ill.109.
Technical notes:
There is a vertical fold at the centre of the sheet.

Elizabeth Jacklin
February 2015

Read full Catalogue entry

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