Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Grounds of St John’s and Trinity Colleges, Oxford


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 342 × 507 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 96

Catalogue entry

Eric Shanes has identified this loose colour study as showing St John’s and Trinity Colleges, Oxford, based on a pencil drawing in the Oxford sketchbook, in use between about 1834 and 18381 (Tate D27933, D27934; Turner Bequest CCLXXXV 25a–26),2 possibly as an undeveloped design for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales,3 the last engravings of which were published in 1838.
The view is from within the college grounds, looking south along the east, outer front of Canterbury Quadrangle towards adjoining Trinity College. None of the crenellations, gables and elaborate oriel windows carefully recorded in the sketch is indicated here, with the whole façade of St John’s simplified to pale pink and white masses, and Trinity in blue-grey beyond. Shanes suggests that the shadowy foreground figures ‘add a subtle dynamism’.4
Colin Harrison has also dated this, along with other Oxford colour studies, to the late 1830s,5 hence the dating here. Tate D25217 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 95) shows Trinity from its own grounds, while Tate D36314 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 24) shows New College from its grounds. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised Oxford subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
See Harrison 2000, p.88.
Shanes 1997, p.88.
See ibid., pp.12, 13, 26, 86, 88, 96, 100, 105.
Ibid., p.88.
Harrison 2000, p.91.
Technical notes:
As Eric Shanes notes,1 this is one of four Oxford colour studies which are closely related physically. Tate D36314 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 24, watermarked 1837) and the present work have matching serrations at the bottom of their respective compositions where the original super royal-format sheet was torn in half. The two were worked up on opposite faces of the overall sheet, presumably after it was halved, as there is no overlap of watercolour wash from the front of one to the back of the other. All of the above applies to Tate D25220 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98) and Tate D25217 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 95), also originally a single sheet. Shanes observes that ‘all four drawings manifest extremely similar serrations that resulted from the two super royal sheets being torn in half simultaneously’.2 He also suggests that their ‘distinctive, shared characteristics’, along with those of a fifth Oxford study, Tate D36316 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26, watermarked 1837), indicate that they ‘may have been made during the same work session’.3
Shanes 1997, p.86.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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