Joseph Mallord William Turner

Union of the Thames and Isis (‘Dorchester Mead, Oxfordshire’)

exhibited 1808

On loan

Dordrechts Museum (Dordrecht, Netherlands): In the light of Cuyp, Aelbert Cuyp & Gainsborough, Constable, Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 908 × 1213 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner’s original title for this picture in exhibitions at his Gallery in 1808 and 1809 is commonly used today, although he showed it again in 1810 as ‘Dorchester Mead, Oxfordshire’. It depicts the confluence of the Thames, or ‘Isis’ as it was traditionally called in its passage through Oxford, and the Thame near Dorchester.

The Thame, hardly more than a stream, is in the foreground while the Thames is glimpsed beyond the wooden bridge on the right. Modest and direct, the picture also evokes the seventeenth-century painter Aelbert Cuyp in its lighting and pastoral imagery.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

70. [N00462] Union of the Thames and Isis Exh. 1808

Canvas, 35 3/4 × 47 1/2 (91 × 121·5)
Insc. ‘JMW Turner RA’ lower left.

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (86, ‘Cattle in Water’ 4'0" × 3'0"), transferred to the Tate Gallery 1912.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1808; Turner's gallery 1809 (5); Tate Gallery 1931 (37); The Thames in Art Henley and Cheltenham, June–July 1967 (21); Paintings of the Thames Valley Reading Museum and Art Gallery, February–March 1968 (23); Hague 1978–9 (iv, repr. in colour).

Lit. Armstrong 1902, p. 224, as ‘Landscape, with Cattle in Water’; MacColl 1920, p. 3; Whitley 1928, p. 140; Davies 1946, p. 187; Clare 1951, pp. 41–2; Finberg 1961, pp. 144, 468 no. 115, 469 no. 132.

This is the first of the pictures mentioned in the long account of Turner's gallery in the Review of Publications of Art for 1808, probably by John Landseer. It is described as ‘a scene of Claude-like serenity, which is much to be admired for its exquisite colouring, picturesque groups of cattle, and the delicate management of the air tint which intervenes between the several distances. The negative grey by means of which this beautiful sweetness of gradation is accomplished, is with great art insensibly blended with, and in parts contrasted to, the positive and even rich colouring of the cows, ... the plumage of the ducks and other subjects on the foreground ... That continuity of line which so often contributes to the grandeur of Mr. Turner's pictures, is here, in the wooden bridge, and in the ridge of distant hill, made subservient to a milder sentiment ...’

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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