Joseph Mallord William Turner

River Scene with Cattle


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Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1283 × 1740 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

From its relatively advanced state, this large river scene appears to be an unfinished picture. In order for the painting to be acceptable for exhibition or sale at this stage of his career, Turner would have added a little more detail or narrative, and made the features already present crisper. He may have concluded that the size was too large for the subject matter and abandoned the picture for this reason.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

84. [N01857] River Scene with Cattle Exh. 1809?

Canvas, 50 7/8 × 68 1/8 (128·5 × 174)

Coll. Turner's Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919.

Exh. ?Turner's gallery 1809 (2, as ‘Sketch of Cows, &c.’); Tate Gallery 1931 (36).

Lit. Armstrong 1902, p. 228; MacColl 1920, p. 28; Gage 1965, p. 79 n. 35.

For an alternative candidate for the work exhibited by Turner in 1809 see No. 83 [N00487]; the fact that the latter, rather than this work, was included in the batch of works to be given numbers immediately they were aquired by the National Gallery makes it marginally the more likely to have been the exhibited picture. The fact that this River Scene is rather more of a finished picture than the other paradoxically supports the claims of the other to have been exhibited as a ‘Sketch’.

The picture is based on sketches in the ‘Tabley No. 2’ sketchbook, probably of 1808 (the closest is CIV-47 verso; there are variations on pages 46 verso and 47 (in which the shipping is closer to the final painting), and 48 verso and 49). These follow a series of river scenes identified by Finberg (1909, p. 273) as showing the Dee in North Wales, which may therefore also be the scene of this painting.

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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