Joseph Mallord William Turner

Plompton Rocks

1797

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 259 × 423 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D02392
Turner Bequest LI Y

Display caption

During his visit to Harewood House in 1797 Turner spent time exploring the surrounding estate, including Plompton Rocks, which lie between Harrogate and Knaresborough. These sketches relate to two oil paintings Turner completed in the late spring of 1798, and which are on display downstairs in Room T1. Of these two studies, only the partly-coloured view from the north was eventually worked up in oils. It is painted on a sheet of paper with a French watermark, quite unlike most of the other Harewood sketches, which are on Whatman paper. It may be that Turner had exhausted the supplies he brought with him and was given the more exotic supplies by Lascelles.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Turner’s visit to Harewood House, seat of the Lascelles family (see the Introduction to the present subsection) formed a climax to his North of England tour, in so far as it involved a substantial commission for several views of the house and grounds, and for two oil paintings of Plompton Rocks (private collection)1 which may, as Butlin and Joll speculate,2 have been the first he executed in that medium on commission; see also D17202 (Turner Bequest CXCVII L). They were intended to fill decorative panels (formerly doorways) in the wall of the Saloon, with landscapes by Nicholas Thomas Dall (working 1748–died 1776) above. Plompton Rocks were celebrated as a natural attraction on property belonging to the family, just south of Knaresborough and about six miles north of Harewood. The gritstone outcrops had been enhanced by the construction of a lake in the 1760s, to create a Picturesque pleasure ground which looks natural but is at the same time an artificial reordering of nature. The subject was evidently chosen as being of Picturesque as much as of topographical and family interest.
This pencil study, made on a sheet of stout cartridge paper similar to that which he used for some of his drawings in the park (for example Tate D02389; Turner Bequest LI V), gives a general view of the Rocks, but does not correspond to the composition of either of the two paintings, whereas the other surviving drawing relates closely to one of them.3
1
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.22 nos.26–27, pls.24, 25 (colour).
2
See ibid., p.22.
3
A pencil drawing by Thomas Girtin (1775–1802) of Plompton Rocks, enhanced with watercolour (now very faded) and dating from about this time, possibly a year or two later, was sold at Bonhams, London, 6 June 2006 (33, reproduced).
Technical notes:
The sheet is stained and fly-blown, and somewhat irregular, narrowing noticeably towards the bottom.
Verso:
Blank; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram.

Andrew Wilton
January 2013

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