Joseph Mallord William Turner

Plompton Rocks


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 365 × 505 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCVII L

Catalogue entry

This study is one of two relating to the commission for two views of Plompton Rocks that Turner received from Lord Harewood, probably during his visit to Harewood House in 1797; see also Tate D02392 (Turner Bequest LI Y). The composition is close to that of one of the resulting paintings (private collection),1 being a fairly complete rendering of the view shown there, looking south from the head of the artificial lake towards the dam. Turner’s watercolour washes convey with great sensitivity the atmosphere of the scene. As David Hill suggests, the colour may have been added to provide Lord Harewood with a more complete idea of what his pictures would look like, and the fact that this sheet, much larger than the other, or indeed than any of the Harewood sketches, has been neatly folded into regular rectangles may indicate that it was sent by post from London for his approval. The condition of the sheet indicates that the drawing was also made much use of in the studio.
Despite the refinement of the watercolour washes here, the paintings themselves, as Butlin and Joll note, adopt a coarse handling that probably owes much to the example of Richard Wilson (1713–1782), who influenced other work of this period, notably Morning amongst the Coniston Fells, Cumberland, shown at the Royal Academy in 1798 (Tate N00461);2 see the Tweed and Lakes sketchbook (Tate D01059; Turner Bequest XXXV 57). John Gage3 argues that the coarseness of the paint relates specifically to the fact that the pictures were intended to be read at a distance. Butlin and Joll and Hill, again following Gage, argue that the pink hues of the clouds were introduced by Turner to complement the colour scheme of Adam’s Saloon. This may be so, but it is worth pointing out that several of his Wilson-inspired works of this period use a similar palette; for example Dunstanborough Castle, in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand.4
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.22 no.27, pl.25 (colour); for the other see ibid., p.22 no.26, pl.24 (colour).
Ibid., pp.3–4 no.5, pl.6 (colour).
See John Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London 1969, p.148
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.23–4 no.32, pl.28.
Technical notes:
Bower notes that the paper is by an unidentified, probably French, maker, and dates from around 1780; this and other sheets in the group have been cut down, but he estimates that the original sheet size was 20¼ x 15¾ inches (515 x 400 mm).1 See also Tate D02387 and D02388 (Turner Bequest LI T, U).
See Bower 1990, p.108.

Andrew Wilton
January 2013

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