Joseph Mallord William Turner

Trees by Water at Dawn or Sunset

c.1820–40

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 608 × 487 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D25498
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 375 a

Catalogue entry

If not a generic invention, this composition may evoke a scene on the rural River Thames in the Isleworth area, as discussed under Tate D25495 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 372), which is a similar composition of 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 noted the connection, and suggested that D25495 may 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.
The present work shows similar features but in a rather different permutation, with the water less prominent and to the left of the trees, and 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 half the size of the other, as it only occupies part of the sheet as discussed in the technical notes.
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.
1
See Wilton 1975, p.72, Spender 1980, p.152, and Shanes 1997, p.102.
2
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Technical notes:
This design shares the same face of a single sheet with D25499 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 375b), in other respects a completely separate study; the dimensions given here are for the overall sheet, but each composition effectively measures 304 x 487 mm. Finberg suffixed the overall Turner Bequest number CCLXIII 375 with ‘(a)’ and ‘(b)’ respectively,1 and the sheet was consequently given two correlating Tate ‘D’ accession numbers to go with his two titles.
Turner probably worked on the two halves at different times and with different colour schemes, possibly with the sheet folded, although no conspicuous creasing is now evident; the tops of the design are at the outer edges, so that they are inverted relative to each other. Some ‘colour beginnings’ have a stray band of watercolour at one long edge, indicating that the artist was in the habit of working in this way and then separating the two halves, for example Tate D25509 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 385). There are also occasional further cases of two or even three sky or landscape studies in bands across one sheet, for example Tate D25253 and D25241 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 131, 119).
1
Finberg 1909, II, p.844.

Matthew Imms
December 2015

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