Joseph Mallord William Turner

Partial Copy of ‘The Enchanted Isle’ by Antoine Watteau


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 88 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXLI 26 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted, and continued slightly on folio 27 (D10630), the subject of Turner’s copy after Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) was first published by Ziff. (There is also an old but undated and unsigned pencil note identifying Watteau’s picture in a copy of Finberg now in Tate’s library). The Enchanted Isle (L’Île enchantée) (private collection) belonged to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, a great admirer of Watteau who owned various pictures by or attributed to him, as pointed out by Selby Whittingham in his comprehensive study of the French artist’s following in Britain. In view of damage and retouching evident in the picture, Whittingham suggests it may have been the ‘fine Watteau’ which Reynolds allegedly ‘destroyed’ for purposes of research, exposing its layers of paint to discover the painter’s distinctive method of colouring,1 and also that Turner might have first seen it in Reynolds’s house while a student at the Royal Academy.2 This drawing, a partial copy in outline, was presumably made in the house of a later owner, the watercolourist James Holworthy, a close friend by 1816. For some years Holworthy had lived at 29 York Buildings, New Road, Marylebone.3
In 1820 Turner borrowed Holworthy’s house while his own was undergoing building work, but he is likely to have made this drawing on an earlier occasion. It is annotated with colour notes, reflecting the continuing interest in this aspect of Watteau’s work among artists and collectors. The main attraction for Turner, however, must have been the subject of an elegant garden party or fête galante as a potential source for his picture England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday (Tate N00502)4 exhibited in 1819. This required similar narrative and incident, while Reynolds’s ownership of the Watteau was pertinent as his country home, Wick House, commanded much the same view of Richmond Hill as Turner was now painting; see notes to folio 10 verso (D10601) for related composition studies in this sketchbook. Whittingham observes that the centre and left of England: Richmond Hill follows the structure of The Enchanted Isle but that the composition as a whole with its parade of figures comes from other pictures by Watteau including L’Accordée du Village (Sir John Soane’s Museum, London) in the collection of his friend John Soane. References to Watteau must have been calculated to catch the eye of the Regent, two of whose pictures attributed to the artist (in fact by Jean-Baptiste Pater) were shown at the British Institution in 1818.

David Blayney Brown
April 2012

Whittingham 1985, pp.2–3, 21 note 21.
Ibid., p.4.
James Hamilton, ‘Holworthy, James (1781–1841)’, in Oxford Companion, pp.143–4.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.106–7 no.140 (pl.145).
Ibid., p.192 no.340 (pl.341).
Warrell in Solkin 2010, p.230 note 8.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.44–6 no.57 (pl.67).
Ibid., pp.138–9 no.229 (pl.232); see, most recently, David Blayney Brown, ‘What You Will! Turner’s Shakespearean Variety’, in Jay A. Clarke, Landscape, Innovation and Nostalgia: The Manton Collection of British Art, New Haven and London 2012, pp.126–45.

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