Joseph Mallord William Turner

Oxford from the South-West


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite, watercolour and pen and ink on paper
Support: 364 × 511 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest III B

Display caption

Turner can have been no more than thirteen when he painted this simple prospect of Oxford from North Hinksey. Although the composition devotes over two-thirds of the available space to the sky, there is no sense of this having been sketched from nature. Rather, the way the sky is painted is typical of the often perfunctory blue and wash drawings made by most late eighteenth-century topographers, who were more concerned with the accurate representation of a specific place than with recording the transient effects of nature.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

This composition was produced using pencil, penned ink, watercolour and ink washes. The paper is very heavily sized; evidence of this can be seen in the ink lettering where the pen has scratched through the layer of size. Bower suggests that the sheet may have been re-sized by Turner before he used it. If this is the case it would be the earliest example of Turner preparing a paper before working on it. Most early wove papers were produced for printing and therefore tended to have a soft-sized (lightly sized) surface. Papers specifically for drawing and watercolours were not yet being made by English makers.1
This image has been created on white paper using pencil outlines and washes of single colours applied to slightly damp paper. This creates a softened outline to the pale clouds depicted against a very pale blue sky. Curling outlines in ink have been added for the trees and then green paint has been applied over them. This technique is crude in comparison to Turner’s later works. Pigments used include: mixed greens, grey/black, red and a fine-grained blue pigment such as indigo. The most distant landscape would conventionally have been rendered more blue than the foreground, but here the degree of blueness is likely to be due to fading of yellow out of the paint mixtures as well.
The washline border round the work is a conventional means of presenting a finished watercolour, though it is more usual to apply the wash to a separate window mount that sits on top of the watercolour. Here, the pale grey tone of the sky dominates the washed lines.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
January 2011

Peter Bower, ‘Turner’s Papers: A Catalogue of the Papers Used by J.M.W. Turner in the Turner Bequest, Clore Gallery, Tate Gallery. Part 1: 1787–1802: TB I–TB LXX’, 1994, Tate catalogue files, unpaginated.

Catalogue entry

Youngblood, with some justification, considers that the style of this sheet is consistent with that of Turner’s early Margate drawings.1 Like those drawings it was, as Harrison observes, presumably made from sketches on the spot, but is very unlikely to have been completed out of doors. The buildings of the city are huddled together to the right of the composition, with the towers of St Giles’s and Magdalen (at the extreme right) conspicuous, along with the spire of Christ Church Cathedral and the dome of the Radcliffe Camera. Compare the distant view of Oxford dated 1789 (Tate D00046; Turner Bequest III A).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.300 nos.1–4, reproduced (3 and 4), pls.1, 2 (1 and 2 respectively), as ?1784.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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