Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Abingdon’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 143 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCIV 4 a

Catalogue entry

This drawing of Abingdon served as the basis of the picture (Tate N00485) formerly known as ‘Dorchester Mead, Oxfordshire’ having been identified with the work exhibited under that title at Turner’s Gallery in 1810 although it was titled ‘Abingdon, taken from the River’ when sold in 1829 from the collection of its first owner, George Hibbert.1 Hill, recognising another picture (Tate N00462)2 as the 1810 exhibit, plausibly argues that Abingdon was shown at Turner’s Gallery in 1806 or 1807, years for which there are no complete lists of exhibits. The view is of the Thames, which here splits into two channels, with Abingdon Bridge, the adjacent Nag’s Head Inn and, beyond the bridge in the right distance, the spire of St Helen’s Church. A slighter outline of the same view but from closer to the bridge, is on folio 40 verso of the sketchbook (D05899). Both sketches were presumably made from nature.
Here, the main elements of the picture are already in place, including two groups of cattle in the foreground and a boat at the centre. In Wilkinson’s opinion the ‘misty-morning effect of this picture owes nothing to the sketch’,3 but in fact the interplay of firm and light pressure on the pen and the use of hatching foreshadow the tonal variations of the oil and the way in which its features dissolve into luminous vapour. For the right of the picture, Turner seems to have borrowed the motif of a crane from his adjoining sketch on folio 5 (D05851), made near Walton Bridge; it is shown unloading timber, as Hill suggests for the construction of Abingdon’s new gaol being built beyond the bridge at this period.4 Turner also made, probably in the studio, two small variant composition studies for the picture on a single leaf of the Hesperides (1) sketchbook (Tate D05799; Turner Bequest XCIII 21a).

David Blayney Brown
December 2007

Butlin and Joll 1984, p.77 no.107 (pl.114); the confusion over the title of this picture is discussed by the authors who identify it with the 1810 ‘Dorchester Mead’.
Ibid., p.54 no.70 (pl.80); previously shown at Turner’s Gallery in 1808 and 1809 as ‘The Union of the Thames and Isis’, thus confirming the location of the subject as Dorchester.
Wilkinson 1974, p.73.
Hill 1993, p.137.

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