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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Fonthill Sketchbook c.1799–1807

Turner Bequest XLVII 1–58
Pages from a sketchbook, of which no original covers survive [see Technical notes in the Introduction]
56 leaves and two related fragments of another (D02220, D02234) of white wove paper; approximate page size 469 x 332 mm; watermark ‘J Whatman 1794’
Numbered 210 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854, and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest on Tate D02212 (Turner Bequest XLVII 35)
John Ruskin called this the ‘Schaffhausen Book’; see under D02209 (Turner Bequest XLVII 32). Turner did indeed take it with him on his Continental tour of 1802 (see the ‘Switzerland 1802’ section of this catalogue), making drawings at Basel, Laufenburg and Schaffhausen; see D02203–D02208, and D02229–D02233 (Turner Bequest XLVII 26–31, XLVII 52–56). But it was in use prior to that date, when he was at engaged in work for William Beckford at Fonthill in Wiltshire in the late summer of 1799 (see particularly under D02178; Turner Bequest XLVII 1), and was still to hand when he visited Cassiobury, Hertfordshire, in 1807 (see under D02235; Turner Bequest XLVII 58).1
There are also studies on D02198, D02199 and D02210 (Turner Bequest XLVII 21, 22, 33) for a Deluge subject that relate (though not closely) to the painting of The Deluge probably shown at Turner’s own gallery in 1805 and at the Royal Academy in 1813 (Tate N00493);2 see also the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXI). The present book is one of the earliest to contain subjects that Turner adopted for the Liber Studiorum, his publication which appeared in instalments over several years from 1807 (see the ‘Liber Studiorum c.1806–24’ section).
The sketchbook is notable for the range of drawing techniques employed: pencil sketches are juxtaposed with chalk drawings, monochrome studies and watercolour, sometimes in combination with gouache. A sheet of small-scale copies after a group of paintings by Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682) sold in London in 1804 (D41265; Turner Bequest XLVII 19 verso) is an important record of Turner’s burgeoning interest in that master. His influence can be felt in the compositional layout of some of Turner’s Fonthill views based on drawings here, exhibited as a set of five watercolours at the Royal Academy in 1800 (private collection; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Montréal Museum of Fine Arts; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester).3
In his pursuit of widely differing viewpoints for this series of portraits of a single house, Turner went further than most other topographers, and indeed than his own usual practice, and may be compared with his Japanese contemporary Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), whose 36 Views of Fuji (1826–33) follow a similarly witty programme. He was probably thinking of his own work on a watercolour series of views of Harewood House in Yorkshire a year or two earlier (private collection),4 stemming from his 1797 North of England journey (see the ‘Drawings Made at Harewood and Plompton Rocks’ subsection of that tour). For details of the progress of the Fonthill commission see under D02178; Turner Bequest XLVII 1). A large colour study of Fonthill is Tate D04167 (Turner Bequest LXX P); see also Tate D04172 (Turner Bequest LXX U).
See Kathryn Cave ed., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.VIII, New Haven and London 1982, p.3141.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.43–4 no.55, pl.65 (colour).
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.338 nos.335–339, reproduced, and pl.53.
Ibid., p.324 nos.217–220, two reproduced, and pl.40.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Fonthill Sketchbook c.1799–1807’, sketchbook, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/fonthill-sketchbook-r1174215, accessed 05 December 2021.