Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ploughing, Eton


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Etching, watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 300 × 430 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Turner Bequest CXVIII T

Catalogue entry

? Thomas Lupton
Henry Vaughan by 1878
(see main catalogue entry)
While the initial pencil and wash study for this unpublished Liber Studiorum composition shows a cathedral-like building probably based on York Minster (Studies for Liber sketchbook, Tate D08100; Turner Bequest CXV 47), Turner modified the composition when he came to etch the outline, to show the more compact profile of Eton College Chapel. As Gillian Forrester suggests, he may have referred back to slight studies in the Windsor, Eton sketchbook, both for the chapel (Tate D06075, D06076; Turner Bequest XCVII 4, 5) and the plough (D06161; XCVII 81a).
Forrester also notes that Turner may have begun working on this agricultural subject for the Liber after the 1813 publication of an etching after his watercolour of the mid-1790s, Autumn – Sowing Grain (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),1 in John Hassell’s drawing manual Aqua Pictura.2 In turn this may have reminded him of its companion watercolour, Ploughing (Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino),3 which includes the back view of a ploughboy holding a whip, as etched by Turner in the present work.4 The patriotic connotations of ploughing, and the implications of peaceful bucolic activities emphasised by the presence of a woman and child, may perhaps be related to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, at about the time the design was first conceived.5 Turner often depicted sites in the Thames Valley in idyllic, idealised form,6 with a ‘juxtaposition of elevated architecture and humble agricultural toil.’7
Turner first drew the subject with the woman and child on the right and the ploughman approaching from the left (Tate D08100; Turner Bequest CXV 47). When he came to etch the composition, he copied the orientation of the figures directly from the drawing, such that they were reversed in the various subsequent prints. The printing history of the design and the various changes made to the figures and landscape at each stage are complex, and not clarified by the various proofs or states being numbered differently in the two editions of Rawlinson’s Liber catalogue and recorded under a different system by Finberg.8
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.318 no.173, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, pp.34, 143.
Wilton 1979, p.318 no.172, reproduced.
Forrester 1996, p.34.
Ibid., p.143; see also p.29.
See many examples in David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
Forrester 1996, p.137.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.155–7 no.79; 1906, pp.180–2 no.79; Finberg 1924, pp.315–18 no.79.
Finberg 1924, reproduced p.[316] (below).
Ibid., reproduced p.317.
Rawlinson 1878, p.157.
Impressions include one reproduced in [Grenville Lindall Winthrop], A Catalogue of the Collection of Prints from the Liber Studiorum of Joseph Mallord William Turner, Formed by the Late Francis Bullard of Boston Massachusetts and Bequeathed by him to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Boston 1916, p.167 [Boston M23203].
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Forrester 1996, p.143.
Rawlinson 1878, p.155.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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