J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Devon Rivers, No.1 Sketchbook 1814

Turner Bequest CXXXII 1–146a
Sketchbook bound in boards, covered in brown napped leather (partly modern; see main catalogue entry), the covers blind-tooled with paired rules and running scroll borders, the spine with four transverse paired blind-tooled rules, and with the remains of one brass clasp
146 leaves and pastedowns of white wove paper, page size 90 x 152 mm
Made at Ivy Mill, Maidstone; various pages watermarked ‘Ivy Mill | 1812’
Inscribed by Turner in ink on a label ‘40 Devonshire. Rivers’ (now detached from the spine and kept separately), and in ink ‘Devon Rivers 1’ on the back cover (D40828); blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram on front cover, top left
Numbered 254 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854 and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest, inside front cover (see main catalogue entry)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This sketchbook comprises drawings made in the summer of 1814, mostly at sites in the north-west of Devon, on the western fringes of the county edging into Cornwall, and down the Tamar Valley towards Plymouth. It complements the contemporary Devon Rivers, No.2 sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXIII), which includes subjects in the south and east of Devon, and the relatively large Devonshire Rivers, No.3, and Wharfedale sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXIV), which was used selectively alongside the first two books for more detailed views of the same places. Unlike the present sketchbook, the other two also include some unrelated Yorkshire material (see the overall Introduction to the tour).
Given the subjects in the three books and the general sequence of drawings in the first two, the most straightforward way to consider the tour is as an anti-clockwise route beginning in the east of Devon. The present book remains in the order recorded in Finberg’s 1909 Turner Bequest Inventory, where he recorded John Ruskin’s note on a label or wrapper (since lost): ‘Mr. Ruskin’s endorsement. – “254. Pretty English things, good for division and distribution. Will be quite spoiled if shown in the book.”’1 To this, Finberg added a relieved footnote: ‘Fortunately Mr. Ruskin’s suggestion was not acted upon.’2 Even so, the sequence of identified drawings does not always equate to a straightforward, continuous itinerary.
Turner may have begun by visiting Oakfordbridge (see folio 6 recto; D09483), north of Tiverton. If the identification of the relevant drawings is correct, he would have travelled west via Chulmleigh, in the heart of north Devon (see under folio 61 recto; D09545). This village lies a few miles south of South Molton, on a different route to the north-west of the county, but there are no identified sketches of the latter town, the ancestral home town of the Turners, including the artist’s own father, ‘as far back as the records go’;3 Chulmleigh is not mentioned in connection with the family.4 Barnstaple, on the Taw Estuary, was his next likely calling point (see under folio 66 recto; D09550), where other Turners lived,5 including his uncle John, Master of the Poor House, whom the artist had called on as he passed through in 1811 (see the Devonshire Coast, No.1 sketchbook, particularly under Tate D08664; Turner Bequest CXXIII 158a). He also drew around Bideford, on the Torridge Estuary a few miles to the south-west (see under folio 79 recto; D09564), before apparently following the Torridge inland to Great Torrington (see under folio 80 recto; D09566).
Travelling south-east though Hatherleigh (see under folio 93 recto; D09582), Turner would have come next to Okehampton and its castle (see under folio 43 recto; D09526), on the northern edge of Dartmoor (see folio 8 recto; D09489). He perhaps ventured onto the moors at this point to visit Cranmere Pool (see folio 23 recto; D09505). Turning west he visited Lydford, with its castle and gorge (see under folio 28 recto; D09510) before following the course of the River Lyd to Launceston, another town with a prominent castle, just over the border into Cornwall (see under folio 106 recto; D09596).
Probably in 1813, on his first extended stay in Devon (see the ‘West Country 1813’ section of this catalogue), Turner had made several drawings in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook on the River Tamar south-east of Launceston, in the neighbourhood of Gunnislake and New Bridge in particular (including Tate D10271, D10273; Turner Bequest CXXXVII 46a, 47a). These sketches relate to the major painting Crossing the Brook (Tate N00497),6 which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815. He was evidently impressed by the scenery (see the Introduction to the 1813 tour), and returned in 1814 as part of his extended circuit round Devon and the eastern fringes of Cornwall. 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;7 it is a moot point whether that book was used in Devon in 1813 or 1814. For the main sequence of Tamar sketches in the present book, see under folio 114 verso (D09606). Local historians Diana Cook and Dorothy Kirk have done much to identify Turner’s drawings along the river.8
From here, Turner travelled a few miles east to visit Tavistock and its ruined abbey on the River Tavy (see under folio 143a; D09661). He may have gone some way onto Dartmoor again from here. Afterwards, he apparently travelled south to Plymouth, and began using the Devon Rivers, No.2 sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXXIII). The only other subject identified in the present book outside the route outlined above is Chudleigh Rocks (see under folio 2 recto; D09483), south of Exeter, which would fit with Turner’s likely itinerary from Plymouth to the east and north-east around the south-east side of Dartmoor in Devon Rivers, No.2 late in the 1814 tour.
Of numerous as yet unidentified subjects, some can be tentatively suggested very broadly as north Devon subjects from their topography and juxtapositions with identified subjects: folios 59 recto and verso, 63 recto, 71 recto, 72 recto, 73 recto, 74 recto, 75 recto, 89 recto, 90 recto, 91 recto and verso, 93 verso, 94 verso, 95 recto, 96 recto and verso, 97 recto, 98 recto, 101 recto and 102 verso (D09542, D09543, D09547, D09556–D09560, D09577–D09580, D40826, D09584–D09586, D40827, D09587, D09588, D09591, D09592). Others may be south Devon views: folios 116 recto, 118 recto and verso, 120 verso, 125 verso, 133 verso, 136 recto, 144 recto, and 145 recto and verso (D09609, D09612, D09613, D09617, D09627, D09642, D09647, D09662, D09664, D09665). Still others are difficult to place, even within such expansive divisions: folios 7 recto, 12 recto, 13 recto and verso, 16 recto and 17 recto (D09488, D09493, D09494, D09495, D09498, D09499).
Inside the front cover, the otherwise blank paste-down is inscribed by Turner’s executors Henry Scott Trimmer, Charles Turner, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake and John Prescott Knight in ink ‘No 254 | Containing 139 leaves. Pencil sketches | most on both sides – | H.S. Trimmer | C Turner’ at the top, and in pencil ‘C.L.E.’ and ‘JPK’ immediately below. The blind-stamped Turner Bequest monogram appears at the centre and ‘CXXXII’ is stamped in black at the top left, obscuring the same number in pencil.
Finberg 1909, I, p.372.
Ibid., note ‘†’.
Selby Whittingham, Of Geese, Mallards and Drakes: Some Notes on Turner’s Family II – The Turners of Devon, London 1995, p.9.
See ibid. in general.
See ibid., p.9.
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.
See Diana Cook and Dorothy Kirk, Research/Feasibility Study for Gunnislake Turner Trail, [Gunnislake] 2001, and the same authors’ Turner in the Tamar Valley: Following in Turner’s Footsteps along the River Tamar, Drakewalls 2009.

Matthew Imms
June 2014

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Devon Rivers, No.1 Sketchbook 1814’, sketchbook, June 2014, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/devon-rivers-no1-sketchbook-r1147023, accessed 30 May 2024.