Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of Richmond Hill and Bridge

exhibited 1808

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 1219 mm
frame: 1200 × 1510 × 130 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

In this Thames landscape the sun lies low behind Richmond Hill, emanating a golden light. The foreground, by contrast, is in shade, and the view is shrouded in morning mist. A reviewer wrote that this indistinctness ‘leaves the imagination to wander over Richmond, and finish the picture from the suggestions of the painter’. They argued that less skilled artists would have erred by focusing on intricate details.
Due to the women bathing a child and the sheep nearby, the work has been viewed in the tradition of ‘pastoral’. This was a type of literature portraying an idealised rural life.

Gallery label, November 2021

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Catalogue entry

73. [N00557] View of Richmond Hill and Bridge Exh. 1808

Canvas, 36 × 48 (81·5 × 122)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (87, ‘Richmond Bridge’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1929.

Exh. Turner's gallery 1808; Tate Gallery 1931 (32); Venice and Rome 1948 (15, repr.); Rotterdam 1955 (52, repr.); Historic Richmond Town Hall, Richmond, Surrey, August–September 1959 (53); Australian tour 1960 (5).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 349; 1877, p. 467; Armstrong 1902, p. 227; Whitley 1928, p. 140; Davies 1946, p. 187; Wilton 1979, pp. 118–19.

There are general views of the same scene in the ‘Shipwreck (No. 2 [N00459])’ and ‘Thames from Reading to Walton’ sketchbooks (LXXXVIII-14, running onto 15, and XCV-24). The ‘Hesperides (1)’ sketchbook contains two composition sketches for the picture, and a figure study related to that closest to the final picture (XCIII-35 verso, 37 verso and 38 respectively).

John Landseer (?) described this picture among those shown by Turner in his gallery in 1808 in the Review of Publications of Art for that year: Turner's ‘view of Richmond Hill and Bridge is taken from the Surry [sic] bank, looking up the Thames ... The most conspicuous feature in the picture is Richmond Bridge, of which, the sun being low in the horizon, the Surry end is faintly overshadowed. By obscuring the detail of Richmond itself in the mistiness of the morning; by introducing some sheep, and the simple incident of women bathing a child near the foreground—an incident which we deem worthy of the pastoral Muse of painting, and which, had it been met with in the morning pastorals of Theocritus, would have called forth general admiration—Mr. Turner has given a pastoral character to a scene of polished and princely retirement ... We feel delighted with the effects which we here behold “of incense breathing morn”. The indistinct distance of mingled groves and edifices with which Mr. Turner here presents us, leaves the imagination to wander over Richmond, and finish the picture from the suggestions of the painter, where another artist would have exhausted his subject, and perhaps the patience of his observers, by the attention which he would have required to the minute accuracy of his distant detail.’

Finberg, in a note now in the British Museum, suggested that the centre of the picture was worked on by Turner at a later date, and indeed the sky does seem to have been painted up to the edges of the more thinly painted trees, but Landseer's review suggests that the effect of the rising sun low over the hills was already there in 1808.

This picture was priced at £200 in a note, probably of c. 1810, in Turner's ‘Finance’ sketchbook (CXXII-36; for the date see Nos. 53 [T03869] and 56 [N00474]).

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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