Joseph Mallord William Turner

London from Greenwich Park

exhibited 1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 902 × 1200 mm
frame: 1285 × 1584 × 155 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Like the view from Richmond Hill, that upstream towards the City from Greenwich Park is one of the most prized prospects of the Thames.

From the pastoral foreground with grazing deer, Turner looks over the Queen’s House and Greenwich Hospital towards London where St Paul’s Cathedral and the City churches rise through the smoky pall above the metropolis. Turner’s own verses, presented when the picture was exhibited at his Gallery in 1809, describe the mingled beauty and energy of the scene.

[[on separate caption, or ???decal on wall, put the following verses:]]

Where burthen’d Thames reflect the crowded sail
Commercial care and busy toil prevail
Whoese murky veil, aspiring to the skies
Obscures thy beauty, and thy form denies
Save where thy spires pierce the doubtful air
As gleams of hope amidst a world of care

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

97. [N00483] London Exh. 1809

Canvas, 35 1/2 × 47 1/2 (90 × 120)
Inscribed ‘1809’ and ‘JMW Turner RA PP [?]’ lower left centre. (Plate 565)

Coll. Walter Fawkes by 1811; returned to the artist by exchange (Thornbury) at an unknown date; Turner Bequest 1856 (13, ‘Greenwich Hospital’ 4'0" × 3'0"), transferred to the Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1809 (16); Tate Gallery 1931 (45); Liverpool 1933 (24); R.A. 1974–5 (152, repr.); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (13, repr.); Hague 1978–9 (ix, repr. in colour); Paris 1983–4 (25, repr.); Birmingham 1984.

Engr. By Charles Turner for the Liber Studiorum, R. 26, and published 1 January 1811 as ‘In the possession of Walter Fawkes, Esq, of Farnley’. The preliminary pen and sepia drawing, CXVII-D, repr. Finberg 1924, p. 102; the etching and engraving repr. pp. 102–3.

Lit. Ruskin 1857 (1903–12, xiii, pp. 119–20); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 293; 1877, p. 429; Armstrong 1902, p. 222; Finberg 1910, pp. 63, 80; 1924, p. 103; Davies 1946, p. 185; Finberg 1961, pp. 471 no. 143; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 26–7, pl. 40; Lindsay 1966, p. 240; Hawes 1982, p. 102.

Exhibited in Turner's gallery in 1809 with the following verses:

Where burthen'd Thames reflects the crowded sail,
Commercial care and busy toil prevail,
Whose murky veil, aspiring to the skies,
Obscures thy beauty, and thy form denies,
Save where thy spires pierce the doubtful air,
As gleams of hope amidst a world of care.

The signature is inscribed in brown; the date, to the left and slightly higher, more carefully in black, perhaps on the picture's return to Turner; it is painted on a distinctly thinner area of paint. The letters ‘PP’, of which traces seem to remain at the end of the signature, would stand for Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, a post to which Turner was elected in December 1807. Unevenly discoloured retouchings in the sky were removed in 1973; in particular the heavy plume of smoke rising just to the right of the right-hand dome of Greenwich Hospital was found not to be original.

There is a preliminary drawing for the whole composition, CXX-N (repr. Finberg 1910, pl. 30), and also some related studies of deer on XCV-43/44. There is a variant of the composition, in pen and sepia wash, in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, that seems to have been prepared for the Liber Studiorum engraving but not used (see Hartley 1984, pp. 38–43, no. 30, repr.).

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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