Joseph Mallord William Turner

Scene in the Campagna (‘Woman at a Tank’ or ‘Hindoo Ablutions’)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 211 x 263 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII N

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, untitled, published Turner, 1 February 1812
The present Liber Studiorum design, engraved and published without a title, was described by early commentators as showing a Hindu woman washing, implying thereby that it showed an Indian scene. Finding the traditional titles ‘unpleasing’, Rawlinson suggested a new title with reference to the Roman Campagna in the revised edition of his Liber catalogue,1 acknowledging Stopford Brooke’s description of the scene as such.2 This was adopted in turn by Finberg, who noted that Turner himself listed the composition in his MS lists as ‘Tall Tree’ (see below).
However, the references to the woman as a Hindu and the emphases on the act and location of washing may be of significance. William Chubb3 has related the composition and the similar Liber design The Temple of Minerva Medica (for drawing, with its own apparently Hindu figure, see Tate D08128; Turner Bequest CXVII A) to Turner’s probable interest in contemporary Indian topographical views by Thomas Daniell and his nephew William, frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy and published as aquatints in their Oriental Scenery (1795–1808). Turner knew the artists and their work,4 and the presence of water tanks in some of their Indian prints may have suggested the one he introduced here.5 Although there is no clear indication of Turner’s intention in this case – the woman is not self-evidently Indian, unlike the male in the Minerva Medica design, and the background is generically classical – the similarity of the two compositions appears to suggest a thematic link.
As with other designs engraved for the Liber’s ‘EP’ category (probably for ‘Elevated Pastoral’ – see general Liber introduction), Turner introduced a sense of timelessness derived from the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. Without directly criticising Claude’s influence in this instance, Ruskin dismissed the Italianate trees here and in The Temple of Minerva Medica, in comparison to Turner’s depictions of his native British woods: ‘fine in their arrangement, but they are very pitiful pines’.6
Rawlinson 1906, pp.91–2.
Brooke 1885, p.[124].
William Chubb, ‘Minerva Medica and The Tall Tree’, Turner Studies, vol.1, no.2, 1991, pp.[26]–35.
Ibid., p.[26]
Ibid., p.27 pl.3, p.28 pl.5.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.237.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.77–85; 1906, pp.90–100; Finberg 1924, pp.145–64.
Hardie 1938, pp.45–6 no.4.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, pp.69–70
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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