[from] Nos. 177–94: Small Thames Sketches c. 1807
THESE eighteen sketches of various sizes, painted on mahogany veneer, are all from the Turner Bequest. They were included in the 1854 Schedule as Nos. 184 to 200*, ‘18 fragments various sizes on Veneers—or thin panels’; in the 1856 Schedule no. 200* [N05534], was inadvertently omitted. They were first numbered, laid down on panels, cleaned and exhibited in 1908 and 1910.
The identifiable subjects of these sketches are all on the Thames or its tributary the Wey; several of the Guildford and Godalming views were identified in 1970 by Christopher Pinsent, including No. 186 [N02309], formerly thought to show Windsor Castle. The same area, with the exception of Walton Bridges, is covered by drawings in the ‘Windsor, Eton’ sketchbook and the ‘Wey, Guildford’ sketchbook (XCVII and XCVIII).
The small Thames sketches on panel, like these two sketchbooks, were dated c. 1807 by Finberg (1909, i, pp. 251, 253, and 1961, p. 137), a date that still seems most probable. However, in 1969 Gage divided the sketches into three groups and dated them all later. His first group, Nos. 179–80 [N02308, N02306], 183 [N02305], 187–92 and 194 [N02311], he associates with the ‘Wey, Guildford’ sketchbook but dates c. 1809–10. His second group, Nos. 184 [N02680] and 185 [N02681], he dates c. 1811–12. His third group comprises Nos. 177 [N02312], 178 [N02678], 181 [N02313], 182 [N02679] and 186 [N02309] and is dated by him to c. 1813 or even later, on account of a supposed similarity to the foliage of Crossing the Brook, exhibited in 1815 (No. 130 [N00497]), and a greater accomplishment than the small oil sketches on paper of Devonshire subjects done in 1813 (Nos. 213–25). The Devonshire sketches, however, are not strictly comparable in either technique or general approach, and again it seems more likely that, as is argued in the case of the large Thames sketches on canvas (Nos. 160–176), the whole group represents a single campaign playing a crucial part in the rapid development of Turner's approach to nature in the exhibited pictures of 1807 and 1808. Indeed, in 1983 (exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, pp. 78–9 no. 20), Gage dated No. 186 to c. 1807 and conceded that Turner seemed to have ceased painting the small Thames sketches on mahogany veneer by about 1811.
These sketches were probably done out-of-doors, perhaps from a small boat as the younger Trimmer described, even though he talks of Turner using ‘a large canvas’ (see p. 116). In them Turner approaches nearest to what Constable termed ‘a natural painter’, but, unlike Constable, Turner always seems to have been interested in making a complete pictorial composition even when he came closest to recording a direct experience of nature.
Lit. MacColl 1920, pp. 36–8; Clark 1949, pp. 98–9; Finberg 1961, pp. 136–7; Herrmann 1963, p. 12; Kitson 1964, p. 77; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 23–4; Gage 1965, p. 75 n. 2; Gage 1969, p. 38; Reynolds 1969, p. 71; Ziff 1971, p. 125; Herrmann 1975, pp. 16–19, 228; Wilton 1979, pp. 111–18; Ziff 1980, p. 169; Youngblood 1982, pp. 21, 34 nn. 9 and 23; Gage in exh. cat., Paris 1983–4, pp. 78–9.
184. [N02680] The Thames near Walton Bridges c. 1807
THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (2680)
Mahogany veneer, 14 5/8 × 29 (37 × 73·5)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (one of 184–200*); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1956, returned to the National Gallery 1961, and to the Tate Gallery 1962.
Exh. Amsterdam (repr.), Berne (repr.), Paris, Brussels (repr.), Liege (repr.) (10), Venice and Rome (11) 1947–8; Lisbon 1973 (2, repr. in colour); R.A. 1974–5 (138, repr.); Cambridge and R.A. 1980–1 (51, repr.).
Lit. Davies 1946, pp. 155, 189 n. 19; Clark 1949, pp. 98–9, pl. 84b; Clare 1951, p. 42, repr. p. 44; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 23, pl. 35; Gage 1969, p. 38; Reynolds 1969, p. 74, colour pl. 57; Gaunt 1971, p. 5, colour pl. 6; Herrmann 1975, pp. 16, 19, 228, colour pl. 33.
John Gage isolates this sketch and the next (No. 185 [N02681]) from the other small Thames sketches on account of technique (thin paint directly over the mahogany veneer, without a ground) and subject, and dates them c.
1811–12; but see p. 120. The two finished paintings of Walton Bridges (Nos. 60 and 63), which were probably exhibited in Turner's gallery in 1806 and 1807 respectively, are not related in composition to the sketches and therefore do not help in dating the latter.
Conal Shields (as reported in exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1973–4, p. 88) tentatively suggests that the peculiar character of these two paintings derives from the use of the camera lucida patented by W.H. Wollaston in 1807: ‘Turner has none of his usual difficulty with the proportions of things, with perspective, but goes directly to the notation of colour and tonal relationships’.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984