Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 620 × 1460 mm
frame: 839 × 1672 × 76 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Technique and condition

J.M.W. Turner painted The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks between 1827 and 1831, on one of his frequent visits to Petworth. It was executed on a single piece of linen canvas with a plain 1x1 weave. The canvas was prepared with a single, smooth application of a white coloured, oil based primer. During a previous restoration, the original tacking margins were removed and the canvas glue-paste lined onto another linen fabric. Presumably the dimensions of the painting were not altered. The lined painting was stretched over the present six member wooden stretcher and secured with iron tacks through the lining fabric on the outside edge. The stretcher is expandable with non-mitred, double keyed, mortise and tenon joints and the front face of the stretcher bars are slightly bevelled.

Examination does not yield evidence of initial preparation or underdrawing. The artist applied oil paint to the front face only. Paint application ranges from broad areas of colour to delicate, sketchy brushstrokes. The painting is built up in many layers of varying thickness and opacity to create an atmospheric effect. Thickness varies from thin with no brushstrokes or texture to thick paint with heavy impasto. Areas of impasto are concentrated towards the centre of the composition where the sun is striking the clouds. The painting is varnished with a natural resin varnish applied evenly and covering the entire painting. Over the varnish short, quick brushstrokes of yellow glaze were applied to all areas of the painting. It is undetermined if the glaze was applied by the artist after varnishing the painting as an intermediary step or applied by a restorer.

Since its creation, the painting has been displayed at Petworth House. The support, ground, and paint are stable overall with the exception of the uppermost paint layers. These layers exhibit an extensive, fine network of cracking with some lifting edges resulting in minor loss. The fragile surface is vulnerable to future loss. Contraction crackle from the artist’s technique and choice of materials and general age cracking are visible although not visually disturbing. The front and reverse are covered in a moderate layer of surface dirt and dust. The varnish has yellowed and has decreased in gloss and transparency. The painting was treated in the Tate Conservation Studio in February 2002.

Julie Simek
January 2002

Catalogue entry

[from] Nos. 282–91 : Petworth Landscapes, c. 1828–30

THESE fall into two groups, plus the separate painting relating to the two versions of Chichester Canal (No. 282 [N05563]). The first group consists of the five works from the Turner Bequest now in the Tate Gallery (Nos. 283–7); the second of the four rather more finished pictures still at Petworth (Nos. 288–91). These latter works originally hung below full-length seventeenth-century portraits in the Grinling Gibbons panelled dining-room, and are more or less closely based on four of the Tate Gallery pictures, at least one of which seems originally to have hung in the place later occupied by one of the more finished pictures.

Although Turner had painted a view of Petworth House in 1810 (No. 113 [T03880]) and had sold a considerable number of pictures to Lord Egremont, he became a more frequent visitor to Petworth after the death of his father in 1829. In particular it is known that he stayed there from December 1830 to January 1831. Nearly all recent writers on Turner have followed Finberg in assuming that it was then that the landscapes were painted, or at least begun. On the other hand, Collins Baker dates them c. 1829–30, with the exception of the Brighton, which he assigns definitely to 1830. MacColl, following earlier National Gallery catalogues, dates the sketches for Petworth Park and Chichester Canal (Nos. 283 [N00559] and 285 [N00560]) to 1829. Thornbury dates the Petworth Park even earlier, 1828.

In fact, the first known reference to the landscapes occurs in a letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord of 18 August 1828, giving an account of his visit to Petworth on 16–17 August. After describing ‘the sixty foot dining room’ with its full-length portraits, he goes on, ‘Immense as these pictures are with all their garniture there are still panels to spare, and as he [Lord Egremont] always has artists ready in the house, in one of these compartments, you have Petworth Park by Turner, in another Lord Egremont taking a walk with nine dogs, that are his constant companions, by the same artist ...’ The second of the pictures mentioned must be the Tate Gallery's Petworth Park: Tillington Church in the Distance (No. 283 [N00559]), the dogs in which are omitted from the more finished version at Petworth (No. 288 [T03883]). The other picture is presumably the Tate's Lake, Petworth, Sunset (No. 284 [N02701]), unless the more finished version (No. 289 [T03884]) was already in situ.

John Gage has recently discovered that Turner was at Petworth in August 1827, and the landscapes may have been begun then. On the other hand, Gage has also suggested that the Tate Gallery pictures were begun in London and rejected because they turned out to be too large (1969, p. 260 n. 91), but Creevey's report makes this highly unlikely unless the pictures he saw were somehow only temporarily superimposed on the panels. In any case, the Tate pictures are not consistently larger than the final versions. It may therefore be that Lord Egremont, whose collection had hitherto been confined to Turner's earlier style, found the first set of pictures too sketchy in style; the history of Palestrina (No. 295 [N06283]) suggests another instance of Lord Egremont failing to appreciate Turner's mature work.

That Turner painted some if not all of the Petworth landscapes in the studio specially provided for him in the house is suggested by an anecdote in George Jones' manuscript Recollections of Sir Francis Chantrey, written in 1849: ‘When Turner painted a series of landscapes at Petworth, for the dining-room, he worked with his door locked against everybody but the master of the house. Chantrey was there at the time, and determined to see what Turner was doing; he imitated Lord Egremont's peculiar step, and the two distinct raps on the door by which his lordship was accustomed to announce himself: and the key being immediately turned, he slipped into the room before the artist could shut him out, which joke was mutually enjoyed by the two attached friends’ (reprinted in Finberg 1961, p. 325).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 306; 1877, p. 439; Collins Baker 1920, pp. 124–5; MacColl 1920, p. 27; John Gore (ed.), Creevey's life and Times: A Further Selection from the Correspondence of Thomas Creevey 1934, p. 277; John Gore (ed.), Creevey 1948, p. 293; Finberg 1961, p. 325; Herrmann 1975, pp. 34, 231–2; Joll 1977, pp. 374–9; Young-blood 1983, p. 16.

288. [T03883] The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks c. 1829


Canvas, 24 1/2 × 57 1/2 (62·2 × 146)

Coll. Painted for the third Earl of Egremont for the dining-room at Petworth; by descent to the third Lord Leconfield who in 1947 conveyed Petworth to the National Trust; in 1957 the contents of the State Rooms were accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death duties.

Exh. R.A. 1894 (133); Tate Gallery 1951 (10); Paris 1953 (75); Wildenstein 1954 (18).

Engr. By J. Cousen for the Turner Gallery as ‘Petworth Park’ 1859.

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (Carved Room); Burnet and Cunningham 1852, p. 44 (?); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 306 (?); ii, pp. 11, 397; 1877, pp. 201, 594; Armstrong 1902, p. 226; Rawlinson ii 1913, pp. 208, 358; Collins Baker 1920, p. 125 no. 132; Hussey 1925, p. 975 repr.; Clare 1951, p. 79; Finberg 1961, p. 325; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 46–8, pl. 87; Lindsay 1966, p. 177; Gage 1969, pp. 148, 260 n. 91; Reynolds 1969, p. 133; Herrmann 1975, pp. 34, 231, pl. 123; Joll 1977, pp. 375, 378–9, colour pl. v; Wilton 1979, p. 165, colour pl. 180; Gage 1980, p. 250.

A number of watercolours of the lake at sunset occur in the ‘Petworth Watercolours’ (CCXLIV) pp. 3, 4, 6, 7, 14, 18.

For the full-size sketch, now in the Tate Gallery, see No. 283 [N00559]. The sketch is similar in general composition but differs considerably in details. If these changes were made to accord with Lord Egremont's wishes, as was suggested in the catalogue of the Turner Bicentenary Exhibition, it is difficult to understand why he should have wanted Turner to omit the charming vignette in the sketch which showed him and his nine dogs walking away from the house towards the lake and the setting sun, although one can see why Lord Egremont may have asked for the black sheep, which are still a feature of the park at Petworth today, to be added to the finished version.

As Turner was already on his way to Rome at the time Creevey wrote to Miss Ord (see pp. 164–5), and did not return to England until February 1829, the four finished canvases cannot have been installed until after this, pace Gage 1980.

Thornbury (1862, ii, p. 2) relates how difficult it was to see these four pictures properly in the dining-room at Petworth with the sun shining on them. It is not known when all four were moved to their present positions in the Turner room.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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