Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Junction of the Severn and the Wye


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 182 × 260 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVII E

Catalogue entry

Etching, aquatint and mezzotint by Turner, untitled, published Turner, [?1] June 1811
Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire, in the middle distance, dates from the late eleventh century. Turner’s viewpoint for his Liber Studiorum design is from Piercefield Park (the grounds of a house remodelled by John Soane in the 1780s) on the Welsh side, looking south along the Wye – with Gloucestershire to the left – to where it enters the Severn Estuary about three miles away at the point now traversed by the Severn Road Bridge, and on towards South Gloucestershire on the horizon. As Gillian Forrester notes,1 this very prospect had been described in detail by the printmaker and theorist of Picturesque landscape, the Rev. William Gilpin (1724–1804) in his popular Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales ... (London 1782), although he actually declared it to be romantic but unpicturesque, so that Turner’s ‘inclusion of this plate ... could be interpreted as an anti-Picturesque gesture’2 at a time when his own pictorial theories were evolving.
On his 1798 tour of Wales, Turner had made a sketch of the distant part of this view, worked up in colour in the Hereford Court sketchbook (Tate D01335; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 81), but with the foreground left undeveloped and Chepstow itself much less prominent. A second Liber composition of Chepstow, River Wye (see Tate D08152; Turner Bequest CXVII X), shows the castle from a similar angle but from much closer, though Turner apparently derived the simplified silhouette in the present design from the same sketch used for the more detailed view – in the Dynevor Castle sketchbook, also of 1798 (Tate D01624, D01626; Turner Bequest XL 93–94). Either of the Chepstow designs may be the one mentioned in a letter from Turner to F.C. Lewis, at the time Lewis was involved briefly with the Liber, engraving his one plate, Bridge and Goats, in reverse (see under Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R). Turner wrote of a further drawing he had sent: ‘The new one is a view of Chepstow therefore must not be Reversed but made like the drawing.’3
Forrester 1996, p.78.
Ibid., p.79.
Rawlinson 1878, p.183, letter no.2; John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.33, letter no.19, as ?early 1807; see also Forrester 1996, pp.50, 51 note 5 (favouring the present work).
Christopher White, English Landscape 1630–1850: Drawings, Prints & Books from the Paul Mellon Collection, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1977, p.54 no.89, pl.XCVI.
Ibid., p.54 no.90, pl.XCVII.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.62–3 no.28.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.59–68; 1906, pp.69–79; Finberg 1924, pp.105–24.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.299–300 no.509, pl.511 (colour).
Rawlinson 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.112.
Forrester 1996, p.78 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Ibid.; Forrester 1996, p.11.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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