Joseph Mallord William Turner

Somerset House from the River Thames


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 97 × 155 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XLIV G

Catalogue entry

Although cut down, this is a card similar to those used by Turner for the other works in the group catalogued here; the blue trials on the verso (D40255) have parallels on other cards. The drawing is unexpectedly dramatic, making use as it does of powerful contrasts of tone, with the details of Somerset House itself and the masts of barges worked heavily in black lead point over a dark wash.
Somerset House was by this date the home of the Royal Academy and its annual exhibitions, and Turner may have had it in mind to make a grand topographical view featuring the building. In its broad simplifications of mass and tone the drawing is reminiscent of some compositional studies in the Dolbadarn sketchbook of about 1799; compare for instance the marine subject, Tate D02173 (Turner Bequest XLVI 118a).
The notes of French vocabulary on the back of the card suggest that it may have been in use while Turner was planning his journey to France in 1802.
Technical notes:
The sheet is stained and dirty. Finberg describes the support as ‘card tinted brown’,1 but the drawing is so stained that it is difficult to determine whether this is an effect deliberately sought by Turner.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

Finberg 1909, I, p.107.

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