Joseph Mallord William Turner

The High Street, Oxford


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 372 × 548 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 5

Catalogue entry

This is one of five loose colour studies (the others being Tate D25125, D25126, D25228, D25485; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 3, 4, 106, 362) showing the view west up Oxford’s High Street, comparable with that seen in the oil painting High Street, Oxford, exhibited in 1810 (private collection, on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)1 and engraved in 1812 (no Tate impressions). A sixth shows the view in the opposite direction (Tate D36316; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26).
Andrew Wilton has suggested that the group of five was made between about 1830 and 1835, based on a pencil drawing in the 1830 Kenilworth sketchbook (Tate D21976; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 1a),2 made from the junction with Queen’s Lane, with The Queen’s College in the right foreground, University College further down the High Street on the left, the spire of St Mary’s Church beyond All Souls College on the right, and the spire of All Saints Church in the distance. There are separate sketches showing variations on the view, made in about 1798 (Tate D00666, D08219; Turner Bequest XXVII E, CXX F) and two later ones in the Oxford sketchbook, in use between about 1834 and 18383 (Tate D27903, D27908; Turner Bequest CCLXXXV 2a, 5a). Anne Lyles has noted that the Kenilworth sketch only corresponds closely with D25126 and D25228 (CCLXIII 4, 106).4
Wilton’s suggestion that the five colour studies were ‘almost certainly preliminary exercises’ towards a design for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales has been followed by later commentators;5 his assertion that ‘the whole group was evidently done at one sitting’6 seems feasible. However, his dating of all five to the early 1830s is rendered impossible by the 1837 watermark of D25485 (CCLXIII 362), as is John Gage’s ‘c.1832/5’,7 relating them to the watercolour Christ Church College, Oxford of about 1832 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),8 engraved in that year for England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05094, T06108).
Lyles has suggested that the five studies actually represent two campaigns, with D25125 (CCLXIII 3, watermarked 1816) and the present work having been made as early as ‘?c.1820–5’, and the others (including the one watermarked 1837) around ‘1837–9’.9 The first two, with their ‘colder colour ranges of blues, yellows and greys’,10 might have been for England and Wales, but as the project concluded prematurely in 1838 she argues that Turner would be have been unlikely to embark on further studies after 1837. Instead she proposes that the three further studies, with their common ‘pinks, purples and blues’, might have been intended for a central Oxford counterpoint to the watercolour (Manchester Art Gallery)11 commissioned by the Oxford printseller James Ryman and engraved in 1841 as Oxford from North Hinksey.12 Tate D25220 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98) is a colour study related to the latter.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.73–4 no.102, Pl.109 (colour).
Wilton in Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.125; followed in Shanes 1990, pp.260, 286 note 205.
See Harrison 2000, p.88.
Lyles 1992, p.56.
Wilton 1974, p.125; see also p.26, Wilton 1979, pp.187, 191 note 31, Youngblood 1984, p.18, and Shanes 1997, pp.19, 26, 86, 95, 100, 104.
Wilton 1974, p.26.
Gage 1987, p.[86].
Wilton 1979, p.400 no.853.
Lyles 1992, pp.57–8.
Ibid., p.58; see also Wilton 1974, p.125.
Wilton 1979, p.404 no.889, reproduced.
Lyles 1992, p.58.
Shanes 1997, pp.26, 86.
Shanes 1990, p.260.
Harrison 2000, p.91.
Shanes 1990, p.90.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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