With a little pencil work around the walls at right, and only a few other slight strokes, this study of the famous view west up the Thames from Richmond Hill appears, as Lindsay Stainton has put it, a ‘direct, naturalistic rendering of the view, perhaps made for its own sake’.1 The contre-jour effect of strong afternoon light, radiating shadows in the foreground and tiny passing figures give an air of immediacy, suggesting a relatively rare instance of Turner painting as opposed to drawing in the open air.
Turner had a long association with the Richmond upon Thames area,2 and built a house for himself at Twickenham, below the hill on the opposite bank (see the ‘Sandycombe Lodge c.1808–12’ section of the present catalogue). He had first made a watercolour of the view in the mid 1790s (Tate D00672; Turner Bequest CCVII K), and another dates from perhaps twenty years later (Tate D17192; Turner Bequest CXCVII B); there are also sporadic pencil sketches. His most ambitious treatment was the large painting England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday, exhibited in 1819 (Tate N00502),3 and Eric Shanes has specifically related the present study to it.4
The artist later produced two watercolours of this habitual view: the early 1820s Richmond Hill (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight),5 engraved in 1826 for the Literary Souvenir (Tate impression: T06132); and Richmond Terrace, Surrey (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool),6 engraved in 1838 for the Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04611, T06128). See also the loose ‘colour beginnings’ Tate D25471 and D25509 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 348, 385). While the Walker Art Gallery work is a variation on the 1819 painting, with shady trees in the right foreground and a softly lit party of elegant figures, the Literary Souvenir view is illuminated by a strong central sun, and shows more casual figures with parasols in the open foreground, where an artist’s equipment lies. It is possible that the present sheet most directly informed that version, which hints at Turner working on the spot.
Stainton 1982, p.30.
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993, pp.53–62 and in general.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.106–7 no.140, pl.145 (colour).
See Shanes 1997, p.100.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.359 no.518, pl.135.
Ibid., p.403 no.879, reproduced.