Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Bed of a River in a Wooded Valley, Probably the Erme at Ivybridge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and waercolour on paper
Support: 166 × 208 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXV 48

Catalogue entry

Finberg numbers this page towards the end of his listing for this sketchbook, but it is unclear whether the leaf was actually bound there or simply noted after the bound pages. The same applies to the drawing now bound as folio 2 recto (D08938; CXXV 47). Conversely, the first page Finberg lists (D08865; CXXV 1) is now bound at the back of the book as folio 48 verso. Assuming the present sequence is correct, the subject is likely to be the River Erme at Ivy Bridge, the definite subject of the drawing on folio 2 recto.
The apparent immediacy of Turner’s localised application of colour, to show the specific fall of light and the effect of seeing the rocks in the foreground beneath the water, suggests that this may be a rare instance of his working in watercolour directly at the scene. There is another partly coloured sketch on folio 28 recto (D08905; CXXV 27), showing Pendennis Castle on the Cornish coast.
John Ruskin described the present study at length:
One of the most instructive pieces of evidence I could find of the local finishing of his drawings; and as remarkable for precision of touch as for predetermination of design. Note especially the dark greyish-brown dash of shadow from the right, diagonally cast to the top of the white stones, at once defining them in light, and with true outlines ... This sketch should be copied again and again by all students who wish to understand Turner; limiting themselves to precisely his number of touches to bring out the result, as they would be limited in a problem at chess to mate in so many moves.1
Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8 in Cook and Wedderburn 1904, p.259 no.44.
Technical notes:
The sheet has darkened from prolonged display, while the pigments had been over-exposed by 1909, when Finberg noted: ‘Blue faded’.1 There is a blue-grey strip of watercolour in the sky along the top edge where the sheet was protected by its mount, and the bare paper is brightest along the other edges for the same reason.
Finberg 1909, I, p.356.
Blank, save for inscriptions: inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘[...]87’ bottom left, with a preceding digit apparently lost or obscured at the edge when the sheet was reinserted into the book; inscribed in pencil ‘CXXV. 48’ bottom right. There are glue stains at the corners.

Matthew Imms
February 2011

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