Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ploughing Up Turnips, near Slough (‘Windsor’)

exhibited 1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1019 × 1302 mm
frame: 1435 × 1721 × 179 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Windsor Castle and Eton College (to the right) rise across the Thames Valley, although Turner only mentioned Slough in his original title. Given the conditions of national self-sufficiency imposed by the Napoleonic Wars, the painting has been seen as a celebration of progressive agriculture in an Arcadian English setting, beneath the benign gaze of ‘Farmer’ George III. Details such as the nursing mother, the overseer with his back to us, the men attending to a broken plough and the woman bent double to grub up the turnip roots suggest a more difficult reality, and Turner’s sympathy for the participants.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

89. [N00486] Ploughing up Turnips, near Slough Exh. 1809

Canvas, 40 1/8 × 51 1/4 (102 × 130)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (71, ‘Windsor’ 4'3 1/2" × 3'4 1/2"'); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1809 (9); Tate Gallery 1931 (44); Paris 1972 (260, repr.); Lisbon 1973 (4, repr. in colour); R.A. 1974–5 (156); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (15); Mexico City (1, repr., p. 17) and Caracas (1) 1979; Athens 1980 (72, repr. in colour); Paris 1983–4 (21, repr.).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 294; Armstrong 1902, p. 237; Finberg 1910, pp. 63–8; Davies 1946, p. 187; Finberg 1961, pp. 156, 171, 471 no. 136, pl. 13; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 26, pl. 41; Gage 1969, p. 89; Reynolds 1969, p. 106, pl. 49; Wilton 1979, pp. 121, 124, 157, colour pl. 115.

Formerly known as ‘Windsor’: the Castle is prominent in the background. The present title is that used in the catalogue of the 1809 exhibition in Turner's gallery. There are several related drawings in the sketchbook labelled by Turner ‘46, Windsor, Eaton’, XCVII; this is dated c. 1807 by Finberg (1909, i, p. 251) and 1806 by Gage (exhibition catalogue, Paris 1972); see also No. 57 [N00477]. Page 2 shows the same general view, while there are also related sketches of cows, particularly on pp. 22, 87 and 89, and similar but not identical human figures particularly on pp. 27, 81 verso and 82 verso. The unusual size of the picture is shared by No. 107 [N00485].

This picture was priced at £200 in a note, probably of c. 1810, in Turner's ‘Finance’ sketchbook (CXXII-36; for the date see Nos. 53 [T03869] and 56 [N00474]). As Evelyn Joll points out (exh. cat., Paris 1983–4) this was Turner's usual price for his standard 36 × 48 in. picture.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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