Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Summer-house and Garden at ‘The Limes’, Mortlake, Looking West up the River Thames


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 187 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXIII 15 a

Display caption

The drawing on this opening provided the basis for an oil painting Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1827, 'Mortlake Terrace, the Seat of William Moffatt, Esq., Summer's Evening' (National Gallery of Art, Washington). Like the slightly later views of Petworth Park (see Gallery 102), this view is a reversal of the traditional topographical house portrait so that the house itself is not seen, the view from the house becoming the subject.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

As has long been recognised,1 this drawing is the most direct source for the painting Mortlake Terrace, the Seat of William Moffatt, Esq. Summer’s Evening, shown at the Royal Academy in 1827 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC);2 a companion piece, The Seat of William Moffatt Esq., at Mortlake. Early (Summer’s) Morning, had been exhibited there the previous year (Frick Collection, New York).3 The view is west up the River Thames in the direction of Kew, from a viewpoint notionally inside or immediately beside the west front of Moffatt’s house, ‘The Limes’. The low wall or parapet in the foreground here also appears in the painting, contributing to the effect of steep perspectival recession. Proportionately, the painting was extended upwards to allow the full canopies of the trees to be depicted. There is a detailed study of the summer-house at the end of the garden on folio 13 recto (D18728). As a counterpoint to the morning view, Ian Warrell has observed that the composition here is ‘a reversal of the traditional topographical house portrait so that the house itself is not seen’,4 comparing subsequent paintings of the estate at Petworth; see for example Petworth Park; Tillington Church in the Distance of about 1828 (Tate N00559).5
In the Mortlake evening painting, the view along the bank beyond the trees is informed by the more detailed study on folio 14 verso (D18731). The trunk of the tree on the right is shown semi-transparently to enable Turner to record the full width of the tree-lined horizon; the present view continues halfway across folio 16 recto opposite (D18734), with another tree shown in a similar way. This playing with form was developed in a different way in the painting, where the upper edge of the shadowy wall between the two trees above the parapet is dissolved by the fierce light of the setting sun reflected in the river, the effect being emphasised by the silhouetted form of a dog shown standing on the wall. Turner also introduced an elaborate City or livery company barge passing behind the equivalent of the right-hand tree in the present sketch, accompanied by long rowing boats full of passengers, perhaps inspired by the craft he had recorded near London Bridge on earlier pages (see the sketchbook’s Introduction, where there is also further discussion of the house, the paintings and related studies).
See Finberg 1909, II, p.648, Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, pp.102, 103, Herrmann 1975, p.232, Wilkinson 1975, p.31, Joll 1983, p.101, Butlin and Joll 1984, p.145, Warrell 1991, p.48, Hayes 1992, pp.270, 272 note 7, and Galassi 1996, p.[9].
Ibid., pp.147–8 no.239, pl.237 (colour).
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.144–5 no.235, pl.236 (colour).
Warrell 1991, p.48.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.165–6 no.283, pl.285 (colour).

Matthew Imms
December 2014

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