Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Study for ‘Leeds’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 359 x 505 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 51

Catalogue entry

This very loosely washed ‘colour beginning’, with its strong pinks and greens but little topographical detail, appears to have attracted little attention since Finberg described it as showing a ‘River, with distant castle on hill’.1 However, Eric Shanes has plausibly suggested2 that it may be a study for the 1816 watercolour Leeds (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven),3 a positive representation of the already heavily industrialised town sunlit in its broad valley with a skyline of hills beyond to the north. It was based on elaborate pencil drawings, probably made in September 1816 following a major Yorkshire tour, in the Devonshire Rivers, No.3, and Wharfedale sketchbook. See in particular Tate D09883 (Turner Bequest CXXXIV 79), under which the subject is discussed in detail, as is its unconfirmed connection with a revised edition of Dr Thomas Dunham Whitaker’s Loidis and Elmete (Leeds and Wakefield 1816), which had included engravings of other local scenes after Turner. (A lithograph was issued in 1823, seemingly on the initiative of the watercolour’s owner; there is no Tate impression.)
The right half of the foreground in the finished watercolour is taken up with a stone wall and road, and the scene is bustling with numerous figures and animals. However, the source drawing D09883 is equally empty in its foreground, and the road was introduced from other sketches, while Turner rarely populated his colour studies, so these factors should not prevent the connection. The pale, hazy effect here may prefigure the smoke obscuring some of the background in the completed scene. Compare the colour and handling of two studies which can be linked to views of nearby Wharfedale (Tate D17177, D25219; Turner Bequest CXCVI M, CCLXIII 97) painted around this time for Turner’s friend and patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall (see the Introduction to this section).
Finberg 1909, II, p.818.
See Shanes 1997, pp.30, 99, 103.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.362 no.544, reproduced.
Blank; inscribed by ?John Ruskin in pencil ‘AB 92 P | O’ towards bottom right; inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXIII.51’ bottom right; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCLXIII – 51’ bottom left.

Matthew Imms
August 2016

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