Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Rokeby’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 247 × 175 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 249

Catalogue entry

This is one of four loose ‘colour beginnings’ related to the 1822 watercolour Rokeby (The Higgins, Bedford),1 which was painted for Turner’s close friend and major patron Walter Fawkes of Farnley Hall in Yorkshire (see David Hill’s overall Introduction to the present section); see also Tate D25408, D25409 and D25411 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 285, 286, 288). Their connection was established by Eric Shanes.2
The upright finished design shows a rocky gorge with a figure among trees above the fast-flowing River Greta near Rokeby Park in County Durham. Turner had been in the area in 1816; see David Hill’s Introduction to the Yorkshire 4 sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXLVII) in the ‘Tour of Yorkshire 1816’ section.3 Two boulders in the foreground there are inscribed (slightly inaccurately), as if carved, with lines from the second canto of Rokeby, a long 1813 poem by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832):
Here, twixt Rock and River grew
A dismal grove of sable yew
With whose sad tints were mingled seen
The blighted firs sepulchar’l green
He who winds twixt rock and wave
May hear the headlong torrent rave
May view her chafe her waves to spray
O’er every rock that bars her way
The poem deals with events after the 1644 Civil War battle of Marston Moor; another of Turner’s projects for Fawkes was a series of illustrations of the ‘Fairfaxiana’ collection of items owned by General Fairfax, who had been involved in the battle4 (see under Tate D12100; Turner Bequest CLIV B). The Rokeby design was intended as one of seven illustrations to Fawkes’s personal selection from the verses of Scott, Lord Byron (1788–1824) and Thomas Moore (1779–1852),5 all of whom Turner illustrated in other contexts (see for example Meredith Gamer’s ‘Vignette watercolours c.1826–43’ section).
The present study is the closest to the finished composition, and the key to Shanes recognising the subject, as it ‘quite clearly represents a rocky gorge with a body of water’,6 and the fundamental juxtaposition of the gorge, trees and rocks corresponds closely.7
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.424 no.1053, reproduced.
See Shanes 1997, pp.16–17, 30, 84–6, 97, 99, 101; see also Joll 2002, p.272, House 2006, p.12, and House 2013, p.31.
See also See David Hill in Hill, Stanley Warburton, Mary Tussey and others, Turner in Yorkshire, exhibition catalogue, York City Art Gallery 1980, p.51, and House 2006, p.31.
See Hill 1980, p.51, and Joll 2002, p.272.
See Hill 1980, p.51, and Shanes 1997, p.84.
Shanes 1997, p.16.
See ibid., p.86.

Matthew Imms
September 2006

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