Finberg suggested that this scene of rustic feasting and drinking could be a copy, and Turner’s notes a description of a picture by David Teniers. It is in fact a composition study for Harvest Home (Tate N00562),1 an unfinished oil now usually dated circa 1809 but possibly begun as early as 1807 and still in progress in 1810 or later. The subject is the companion to Cassiobury Park; Reaping (Tate N04663),2 also unfinished, for which a similar composition study exists (Tate D08217; Turner Bequest CXX D). The annotation, ‘Ld Essex’s Harvest Home’, together with the appearance of his Hertfordshire estate of Cassiobury, makes it likely that the pictures were intended for the 5th Earl of Essex. The suggestion was first made by David Hill in a letter to Martin Butlin of 18 March 1984 and was endorsed by Butlin and Joll.
A recent visit by Turner to Cassiobury was noted by Joseph Farington on 15 November 1807.3 A visit in late summer presumably coincided with the harvest supper of which on the spot sketches appear in Turner’s Harvest Home sketchbook (Tate D05352, D05353, D05354; Turner Bequest LXXXVI 2,3,4). Essex bought the first of his Turner oils, Walton Bridges (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne),4 in 1807. If the idea for the harvest picture originated that year, the timing would fit the report by Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake, when visiting Turner’s studio in 1846, that it was begun in the year of David Wilkie’s The Rent Day.5 Wilkie’s picture (private collection) was dated 1807 and exhibited in 1809. And if Turner intended to compete with Wilkie in rustic narrative, it was also in 1807 that he did so in A Country Blacksmith Disputing upon the Price of Iron (Tate N00478),6 which was exhibited at the Royal Academy near Wilkie’s The Blind Fiddler (Tate N00099).
When and why Turner abandoned the project is less clear. According to Miss Rigby he took offence at some ‘remarks’, usually supposed to be derogatory comments on his technique and prices made by Thomas Hearne at Cassiobury in July 1809, as reported by Farington.7 However, both the sketchbook and this drawing contain allusions to a third Wilkie, The Village Holiday (Tate N00122), which Turner could only have seen or heard of as a work in progress as early as October that year and was not actually exhibited until 1812. Turner’s first biographer Walter Thornbury stated that Turner had this later Wilkie in mind, rather than The Rent Day, leading Arthur Marks to suggest a date of about 1812 for Harvest Home in his study of the rivalry between the two painters.8 Unaccountably, however, Marks also dated this drawing circa 1808, a view followed by John Gage who also thought Turner’s picture ‘probably stimulated’ by the later Wilkie 9 – notions only admissible if the painting history of the Wilkie were not taken into account. Perhaps the most that can be said is that Turner continued to work on the harvest pictures having not learned of, or acted on, Hearne’s 1809 remarks at once. Or there may have been some other provocation, possibly inadvertently caused by Lord Essex himself, for the abandonment of the pictures.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.128 no.209 (pl.208).
Ibid., p.128 no.209a (pl.209).
Kathryn Cave ed., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.VIII, New Haven and London 1982, p.3141.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.50 no.63 (pl.71).
Quoted ibid., p.128, under no.209.
Ibid., pp.52–3 no.68 (pl.78).
Quoted ibid., p.68, under no.92.
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians: A New Edition, Revised with 8 Coloured Illustrations after Turner’s Originals and 2 Woodcuts, London 1897, p.425; Marks 1981, pp.333–62.
Gage 1987, pp.144–5, 251 note 78.
Allan Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie, London 1843, vol.I, pp.226, 276.
Sam Smiles, ‘Turner and the Slave Trade: Speculation and Representation, 1805–40,’ The British Art Journal, vol.8, no.3, Winter 2007/8, pp.51–2, 54 notes 42–4.
Reproduced by Eric Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London 1981, p.5.
On Beaumont, Wilkie and Turner see Felicity Owen and David Blayney Brown, Collector of Genius; A Life of Sir George Beaumont, New Haven and London 1988, pp.152–76; and Nicholas Tromans, David Wilkie: Painter of Everyday Life, exhibition catalogue, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2002, pp.12–13, 18–19.