Joseph Mallord William Turner

Pembury Mill, Kent


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 183 × 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVI O

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘PEMBURY MILL, KENT.’, published Charles Turner, 10 June 1808
Pembury lies in Kent, just to the east of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Two Turner watercolours of about 1795–6, Pembury Mill, near Tunbridge Wells (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)1 and A Watermill (British Museum, London), 2 show the same basic façade but with many differences in the incidental details of building and setting; despite the title of the first, there is no direct relationship between them and the present Liber Studiorum design. The British Museum version contains elements including what may be an integral dovecote to the left of an open door, a framework of beams with weatherboards and herringbone brickwork, and a cart loaded with bags of flour, which all appear – in an entirely different arrangement – in the Liber design. There are dozens of drawings and watercolours of watermills in the Turner Bequest dating from before the present work, of which some show similar cross-braced wheels (for example Tate D00859, D00870, D01285; Turner Bequest XXXII C, N; XXXVIII 33); Turner may have used his accumulated knowledge to condense the various elements of a typical mill into an imaginative configuration.
Ruskin noted the composition as a ‘study of flour-mill life, as essential to all other life, given in the extreme of its simplicity’;3 and Stopford Brook saw the combination of the flour and the vine around the doorway as ‘the idyll of the fruits of the earth – “With corn and wine have I sustained thee.”’4 However, Rawlinson felt more prosaically that the design had ‘a cramped look.’5 The balance between the ‘Pastoral’ and commercial spheres is maintained in the division between the natural elements on the left and the activities on the right,6 within a fundamentally grid-like framework. It has been suggested that Turner may have been influenced by the interior-exterior scenes of Joseph Wright of Derby, with their strong lighting focused on the products of industrial labour (in Wright’s case, iron); Paul Sandby’s 1776 etching and aquatint The Iron Forge between Dolgelli and Barmouth in Merioneth Shire (with its waterwheel, and figures in a bright doorway) could also have been known to Turner.7
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.313 no.130, reproduced.
Ibid., p.318 no.169, reproduced.
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in Cook and Alexander Wedderburn XXI 1906, p.218.
Brooke 1885, p.[43] (quotation adapted from Genesis 27:37).
Rawlinson 1878, p.31.
See Upstone 1989, p.28.
Forrester 1996, pp.59, 60 notes 3 and 5.
Ibid., pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.30–9; 1906, pp.37–48; Finberg 1924, pp.45–64.
Ibid.: 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; 1924, p.48.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files; Townsend 1996, I, p.379.
Townsend 1993, p.23; see also Townsend 2001, p.285.
See Brooke 1885, p.45.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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