Joseph Mallord William Turner

The River Thames with Isleworth Ferry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 258 × 366 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCV 12

Display caption

Late in 1804 or early in 1805 Turner rented Syon Ferry House, beside the Thames at Isleworth, west of London, as an escape from the city. Besides using it as a base for explorations of the river, and a campaign of sketching from nature in oil and watercolour, he made a number of views from its own grounds. From a sketchbook used in 1805, this watercolour may have been taken from a summerhouse in the garden, looking down to the river.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

This was a right-hand page from the sketchbook. Before the subject was recognised as Isleworth, some commentators stated that Windsor Castle is visible in the background. For Isleworth views from this sketchbook, made near Turner’s residence at Sion (or Syon) Ferry House, see Introduction and Tate D05915; Turner Bequest XCV 11. Several of these are closely related, as Hill observes. This view is perhaps from the summer-house at the bottom of Turner’s garden, which is visible in the view of Ferry House, Tate D05952; Turner Bequest XCV 48. The same graceful tree appears in both views, facing in opposite directions. There is a ferry in the left foreground as well as other boats including a sailing barge, centre. A similar view, probably with the same buildings in the right distance (mistaken in this case for Windsor Castle by Finberg) but lacking the tree, is Tate D05949; Turner Bequest XCV 45).
Dark rain clouds sweep in from the right. The angle of light to the right behind the clouds indicates early afternoon. While many commentators stress the naturalism of this and other watercolours from the sketchbook, Wilton also argues for their idealism: ‘Ostensibly an unaffected and rapidly executed view of an informal rural subject, it is in fact carefully constructed as a classical landscape’.1
Turner’s thumb print is visible above the boat, lower left.
Wilton in Wilton and Mallord Turner 1990, p.121.
Blank, save for trials of watercolour in one corner. Inscribed by an old hand in pencil ‘19’.

David Blayney Brown
January 2009

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