Joseph Mallord William Turner

Tabley House from the Moat


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil and gum arabic on paper
Support: 226 × 295 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CIII 18

Display caption

Unusually, this sketch was painted on a page of a sketchbook, the 'Tabley' book used when Turner was staying with Sir John Leicester there in the summer of 1808; it was based on a pencil drawing in the same sketchbook. The sketch was cut from the book and bears signs of having been folded into four as if for despatch by post - perhaps to Sir John himself in connection with the two paintings of Tabley that Turner exhibited in 1809. Turner did not normally prepare samples of this kind, but the sketch was evidently made for a practical purpose rather than from nature.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This is a worked-up version, in oil varnished with gum arabic, of a pencil drawing from this sketchbook (D06845–D06846; Turner Bequest 15a–16). Tabley House is seen in the distance from the lake or Moat in its grounds, with some of the boats that Sir John Leicester kept for ‘aquatic parties’. See Introduction to the sketchbook for Turner’s visit to Tabley in 1808 and commission to paint a pair of pictures of the house and grounds for Sir John. The composition of this sketch approximates to that of Tabley, Cheshire, the Seat of Sir J.F. Leicester, Bart: Calm Morning (Tate T03878; displayed at Petworth House),1 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1809. However, it lacks the water tower on the lake, which Turner may have thought unpicturesque and left out of his first drawings.
After Turner made this oil sketch, the leaf was cut out of the sketchbook and folded, as if for sending through the post; consequently the paint is cracked. Finberg and other scholars have suggested that it was sent by Turner to Sir John Leicester for his approval, and subsequently returned. Warrell even wonders if it accompanied the bill for instruction in painting that, according to William Jerdan, so annoyed Sir John when it was sent to him after Turner had stayed at Tabley.2 The present writer is not altogether convinced by Jerdan’s story, but postage of the sketch does seem likely and could have prompted Sir John to asked Turner to include the tower in his pictures. It appears in drawings in the Tabley No.3 sketchbook (Tate D06990, D07002; Turner Bequest CV 7, 17).
As noted by Joll, posting of the sketch (if it was painted after Turner left Tabley) could indicate that the pictures were hardly begun while Turner was staying at the house, thus tending to confirm reports that Turner spent most of his time there fishing. However, Eric Shanes suggests3 that Turner posted the sketch because Sir John was not at Tabley throughout his visit and Whittingham believes that it was painted from a boat on the lake. Gage, noting its dependence on the pencil drawing, suggests it ‘may well have been made away from the motif’, like the technically similar oil sketch of an unidentified landscape from the same book (D06852; Turner Bequest CIII 22). Rather more debatable is Gage’s statement that the Tabley view is ‘Turner’s first oil sketch that can be readily dated’.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.70–1 no.99 (pl.107).
Warrell 2002, p.49; for further discussion of Jerdan’s account see notes to the Tabley No.3 sketchbook, Tate D07025; Turner Bequest CV 32.
In conversation with the author.

David Blayney Brown
May 2010

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