Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Thames at Eton

exhibited 1808

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 605 × 905 mm
frame: 895 × 1192 × 133 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1984. In situ at Petworth House

Catalogue entry

71. [T03873] The Thames at Eton Exh. 1808

Canvas, 23 1/8 × 35 3/4 (59·5 × 90)

Coll. Bought by Lord Egremont perhaps from the exhibition in Turner's gallery in 1808; 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. Turner's gallery 1808; Eton College Quincentenary Exhibition 1947 (28); Tate Gallery 1951 (8); Brussels 1973 (65).

Lit. Petworth Inventories 1837, 1856 (North Gallery); Burnet and Cunningham 1852, p. 44; Waagen 1854, iii, p. 38; Thornbury 1862, ii, pp. 5, 397; 1877, pp. 199, 200, 594; Armstrong 1902, p. 221 (with incorrect size), repr. p. vii; Collins Baker 1920, p. 124 no. 108; Finberg 1961, pp. 144, 149, 468 no. 116; Kitson 1964, p. 78, repr. p. 43; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 26, pl. 37; Reynolds 1969, p. 74; Joll 1977, pp. 375–6, pl. 2.

We owe our knowledge that this picture was shown by Turner in his gallery in 1808 to a lengthy review of the exhibition by John Landseer (?) in the Review of Publications of Art for June 1808. Twelve pictures are described in some detail, of which this is the second, referred to as ‘Eton College’. Landseer stresses the ‘stately dignity’ of the picture and says this effect is maintained by the introduction of a group of swans. Not surprisingly the review quotes from Thomas Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Landseer ends his discussion of this picture by referring to the recently issued Prospectus for the Liber Studiorum and asking into which classification of landscape Mr Turner would assign this picture.

On 8 May the Examiner announced the purchase by Lord Egremont of The Forest of Bere (No. 77 [T03875]) from Turner's gallery but, as Finberg points out, the exhibition had then only been running for a little over two weeks, and there is no reason why Lord Egremont should not have bought further pictures later in the course of the exhibition. Indeed, as four pictures in all of those shown in 1808 are now at Petworth, it seems more likely that he bought the other three during the course of the exhibition rather than after it closed, but there is no evidence about this either way.

A number of drawings of Eton occur in the ‘Windsor, Eaton’ sketchbook (XCVII) but none is closely connected with this composition.

The figures in the punt on the left have a markedly Dutch look about them, deriving perhaps from the figures in Van Goyen's ‘riverscapes’. Turner was to introduce Van Goyen into the title of one of his exhibited pictures twenty-five years later (see No. 350).

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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