Joseph Mallord William Turner

?Weir Head, Gunnislake


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 90 × 152 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXII 114 a

Catalogue entry

Diana Cook and Dorothy Kirk have identified this as a view of Weir Head, on the Tamar south of Gunnislake, linking Turner’s inscription to the medieval construction of the weir by the Abbots of Tavistock. They reproduce a view by William Payne and modern photographs for comparison;1 although Turner’s rapid sketch does not provide enough detail for the identification to be definite, and it at some remove in the sketchbook from securely identified views in the immediate neighbourhood. There is an actual ‘Abbey Weir’ in nearby Tavistock (see under folio 143 verso; D09661), but the topography shown here seems to suggest the more open spaces of the Tamar Valley.
The rural stretch of the Tamar upon which Turner largely focused in this book runs from Carthamartha (about four miles south-east of Launceston: see under folio 106 recto; D09596), south-east to Calstock (see under folio 141 recto; D09656), a distance of about seven miles on the map. Carthamarta and Calstock are on the Cornish side, and the border with Devon runs down the river, which meanders to such an extent that it takes about seventeen miles to flow between the two.
Probably in 1813, Turner had made several drawings in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook on the Tamar, in the neighbourhood of Gunnislake and New Bridge in particular (including Tate D10271, D10273; Turner Bequest CXXXVII 46a, 47a), which relate to the major painting Crossing the Brook (Tate N00497),2 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815. He returned to make a more extensive survey of the area in the present book. As Eric Shanes was the first to recognise, the Review at Portsmouth sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXVI), largely comprising studies of a naval review in June 1814, includes some further sketches in the Gunnislake-Calstock area, mostly in a sequence preceding the Portsmouth views;3 it is a moot point whether that book was used in Devon in 1813 or 1814.
For other views along the Tamar Valley, see folios 117 verso, 121 recto and verso, 122 recto, 123 recto, 124 recto and verso, 125 recto, 126 recto, 127 recto, 127 verso–128 recto, 129 verso, 130 recto and verso, 131 recto, 132 verso, 134 recto, 135 recto and verso, 137 recto and verso, 138 recto, 139 recto, 139 verso–140 recto, 140 verso, 141 recto and verso, 142 recto and verso and 143 recto (D09611, D09618–D09620, D09622, D09624–D09626, D09628, D09630–D09632, D09634–D09637, D09640, D09643, D09645, D09646, D09649–D09660).

Matthew Imms
June 2014

Cook and Kirk 2001, pp.43 and 44 respectively; Cook and Kirk 2009, p.42.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.93–4 no.130, pl.123 (colour).
Email to the author, 20 December 2012, in connection with Shanes’s research on his forthcoming biography of Turner.

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