Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trees by a River at Dawn or Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 485 × 605 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 372

Catalogue entry

The subject and colours here are related to those of Tate D25498 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 375a), as Andrew Wilton has noted. Both show trees beside water with a low sun in a yellow sky at the right, apparently at dawn or possibly, given the glowing colours of the landscape, at sunset. Wilton suggested that its large size and relatively specific details make it likely to be a preparatory study for a particular composition of the Picturesque Views in England and Wales type1 (see the Introduction to this section), but if so the scene remains unidentified. As D25498 shows similar features but in a rather different permutation with the water less prominent and to the left of the trees, it may be that Turner was experimenting with these familiar elements in the classical mode of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), whom he often emulated.2 Although on similar sheets of 1819 paper, the present composition is twice the size of the other, which only occupies half the sheet.
Eric Shanes has proposed a connection with the River Thames; Turner maintained a long association with the Thames Valley (see the ‘Thames sketchbooks c.1804–14’ and ‘Thames, London and South of England 1821–7’ sections of this catalogue).3 His suggestion that this study may show a view from ‘Syon Ferry Lodge’4 (otherwise Sion Ferry House, since demolished) at Isleworth near Richmond, where the artist lived beside the Thames in 1805, is a possibility, although the wooded riverside drawing he particularly notes, from the Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05496; Turner Bequest XC 5), bears a somewhat generic resemblance. The mood of watercolour views around the house from the 1805 Thames, from Reading to Walton sketchbook, seems comparable; see Tate D05949, D05952 and D05953 (Turner Bequest XCV 45, 48, 49). See also the entry for the watercolour study Isleworth of about 1810–15 (Tate D08163; Turner Bequest CXVIII I) for the Turner’s Liber Studiorum print project.
For similar other compositions with trees by water in the present section, see Tate D25182, D25191, D25230, D25233, D25300, D25303 and D25363 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 60, 69, 108, 111, 178, 181, 241), the last of which could also be a Thames Valley scene.
See Wilton 1975, p.72, and Spender 1980, p.152.
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
See also David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
Shanes 1997, p.102.

Matthew Imms
December 2015

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