Joseph Mallord William Turner

River Scene: ?Near Isleworth


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 260 × 365 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCV 47

Technique and condition

This watercolour has been painted on a very white wove paper. The pale blue indigo washes for the sky were applied to very wet paper, so they have dried with very soft edges. The unpainted areas then read as hazy white clouds. Some of the more yellow bushes on either side of the river were probably applied early, also to wet paper. The darker vegetation and trees, painted in mixed greens made from blue, brown earth pigments and Mars red (a manufactured earth pigment in a brighter shade than the natural ones), were applied as the paper was drying, while the building seen in silhouette was applied to well-dried paper. This gives the wash a harder edge, and makes the building stand out more in spite of its colour being muted by distance, as though through a hazy atmosphere. The hazy atmosphere is not even painted: the diminishing scale of the bushes and the narrowing of the river convey the considerable distance that might be expected to appear hazy.
The highlights in the foreground bushes were scraped out with a small pointed tool or even a sharp fingernail, after the paint was dry, and before then Turner had worked at the paint using his fingers. Two local applications of the intensely coloured blue pigment Prussian blue followed by some smearing with the fingers, and a wash of plain water followed by a thin wash of red lake, gave immediate form and movement to the large area of blank paper reserved for the river. The grey tones were made by mixing red, black and blue. The blue is indigo in these more muted mixtures. There are many shades of green in this landscape, and Turner used intensely coloured Indian yellow and a green lake pigment to increase their tonal range.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

This is a right-hand page from the sketchbook. The subject has not been firmly located but, in Hill’s opinion, might be near Isleworth and the same as depicted in Turner’s oil sketch House beside the River, with Trees and Sheep (Tate N02694)1 which he does not otherwise identify.2 Butlin and Joll cite the suggestion of Christopher Pinsent (letter, 2 March 1970) that the latter is a view of St Catherine’s Ferry on the River Wey, but this is unconfirmed. If the buildings are the same, the house appears here in profile, silhouetted against a luminous sky, which makes it appear rather grander, but it has a bay window that might match the one in the oil.
Turner’s use of his fingers to work the paint is discussed by Joyce Townsend,3 who also compares the tonal range here to that in oils like Goring Mill and Church (Tate N02704).4
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.117–8 no.166 (pl.166).
Hill 1993, p.112.
Townsend 1993, pp.23, 24 reproduced pl.15 (detail).
Townsend 2001; Butlin and Joll 1984, p.117 no.161 (pl.161).
Slight pencil sketch of trees. Inscribed in pencil by John Ruskin ‘ Out of schedule 160. JR.’

David Blayney Brown
February 2009

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