Joseph Mallord William Turner

London from Greenwich


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 181 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII D

Display caption

A design for the mezzotint in Turner's 'Liber Studiorum', a series of prints exemplifying the different categories of landscape art. Based on the painting 'London', of 1809 (in Room 108), the mezzotint was published in 1811. London is only a distant presence in this panoramic view from Greenwich Hill. The spires of the city churches, and the dome of St. Paul's, pierce a low canopy of cloud. Shipping on the river attests to the commercial energy of the metropolis. Inigo Jones's Queen's House and Wren's Royal Naval Hospital are seen in the middle distance.

Gallery label, September 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Charles Turner, ‘London, from Greenwich | Picture in the possession of Walter Fawkes Esqr. of Farnley.’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
The twin Baroque domes in Turner’s Liber Studiorum design belong to Greenwich Hospital, founded by Royal Charter in 1694 for the benefit of seamen, and planned by Sir Christopher Wren; later the Royal Naval College, the site is now home to the University of Greenwich. In front of it, below the bend in the Thames, is Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House, flanked by colonnades and pavilions which were under construction for the Royal Naval Asylum just at the time Turner was producing his views (he incorporated scaffolding when he came to etch the Liber design). The house and pavilions are now occupied by the National Maritime Museum. They are seen from One Tree Hill, on the east side of Greenwich Park. On the horizon, flanked by the spires of the City churches, is the dome of Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, some five miles to the north-west, with Westminster Abbey beyond it to the left.
In the early 1790s, John Robert Cozens had composed a similar view, of which six watercolour versions are known1 (including: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London); the hospital’s domes and the London skyline appear above denser trees, with deer in the foreground. Turner knew Cozens’s work from the collection of his early patron Dr Monro and may have been aware of at least one version. His acquaintance Philippe James (Jacques) de Loutherbourg had also represented the scene in his 1780s Eidophusikon,2 a miniature ‘theatre’ representing landscapes with dynamic effects of light and weather.
According to the lettering of the Liber Studiorum engraving, by 1811 his patron Walter Fawkes owned Turner’s painting London from Greenwich Park, to which the present design closely relates. It had been exhibited at Turner’s gallery in 1809, and was subsequently exchanged, remained in his studio and was included in his bequest (Tate N00483).3 The significance of the extensive view of London view in relation to the Augustan poets and Turner’s expression of patriotism and economic progress, albeit mixed with personal pessimism, has been discussed in depth by Andrew Wilton,4 and further considered by Gillian Forrester.5 Turner had long known the site, making a slight study of the domes in the Wilson sketchbook of 1796–7 (Tate D01167; Turner Bequest XXXVII 50). He later made a careful pencil drawing which served to establish the composition of the painting (Tate D08228; Turner Bequest CXX N), augmented by various sketches in the Greenwich sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CII).
Michael Broughton, William Clarke, Joanna Selborne and others, The Spooner Collection of British Watercolours at the Courtauld Institute Gallery, [London] 2005, p.130.
Forrester 1996, p.75.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.69–70 no.97, pl.104 (colour).
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.135
Forrester 1996, pp.75–6.
Ibid., pp.75, 76 note 2 (analysis by Peter Bower).
Townsend, circa 1995.
Craig Hartley, Turner Watercolours in the Whitworth Art Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1984, p.43.
Forrester 1996 p.75.
Finberg 1910, p.80; see also Brooke 1885, p.[88].
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, pp.13, 75
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

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop