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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Frittlewell Sketchbook 1809

Turner Bequest CXII
Sketchbook, bound in calf, with one brass clasp; the spine repaired
88 leaves of white wove paper
Approximate page size 107 x 180 mm
Watermarked ‘J WHAT[MAN] | 180...’
Endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest in ink ‘No 309 Contains 13 Leaves Pencil | Sketches’ and signed by Henry Scott Trimmer ‘H.S. Trimmer’ and Charles Turner ‘C Turner’; signed by Charles Lock Eastlake and John Prescott Knight in pencil ‘C.L.E.’ and ‘JPK’; and inscribed by John Ruskin in pencil ‘10 this end | 3 the other | various poetry | JR | opposite the | sketch of | Crowhurst; Liber S.’ – all inside front cover (D07755)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This sketchbook contains views in Sussex made at the time of Turner’s visit to Petworth in 1809 to prepare for his picture Petworth, Sussex, the Seat of the Earl of Egremont: Dewy Morning (Tate T03880; displayed at Petworth House),1 drafts of poetry and notes for Turner’s lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy. Finberg’s title ‘Frittlewell’ was based on a misreading of Turner’s inscription on folio 6 (D07762) alongside a sketch including the church at Fittleworth, near Petworth. Ruskin was surely wrong to identify the drawing on folio 1 (D07757) as the prototype for Turner’s unpublished Liber Studiorum subject, Crowhurst; it too is probably a view in Petworth Park.
Apparently off the beaten track for this sketchbook, a short poem inside the back cover (D07756) is said by Turner to have been composed ‘at Purley on the Thame[s] | rainy morning no fishing’. In it, Turner addresses his sketchbook, whose leaves ‘Delusion’ has tempted him to violate with his pen – and thus with his writings as well as drawings. Working back from this end of the book, he added a longer draft of a poem, also inspired by a fruitless day’s fishing, folios 88–87 verso (D07851–D07850), a note from Lord Holland’s recent (1806) Life of the Spanish poet and playwright Lope de Vega on poetry’s capacity to ‘paint the appearances of Nature and to describe their effects to our imagination’, folio 88 verso (D07852), and then some touching verses on reputation and its vicissitudes, asking ‘What can the song of greatness be’, folio 85 verso (D07847).
For the creative force, Turner adopts a natural image, a beech tree rising from seed but outgrowing its own strength and falling to the woodcutters. The passage occurs near sketches of trees, folios 82 verso and 83 verso (D07841, D07843) and others of Petworth Park may have established a connection in Turner’s mind as years later he showed the park, with Petworth House and church and a beech at risk from the axe in his vignette The Beech Tree’s Petition (watercolour in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh)2 for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works (1837). Folios 1 and 2 (D07757, D07758) of Petworth or nearby show similarities to this design, while folio 5 (D07761) depicts the park from the Upperton Monument. Some of Turner’s poetic reflections or associations in the book may have been prompted by the poetry-loving Earl of Egremont or by reading in his library. Since fishing and its frustrations are also recurrent themes, Turner may have extended his visit to Petworth to fish on the Arun or the Rother or to stay at the Swan at Fittleworth, an inn with a long tradition of visits from artists and anglers.
Turner was collecting ideas for his Perspective lectures for the Royal Academy at this time, and the remaining notes in the book are concerned with these. They include a list of writers and theorists ancient and modern, from Euclid to Dr Brook Taylor, folio 46 (D07803) and comments and a diagram taken from the celebrated treatise Perspective (1604, 1605) by Jan Vredeman de Vries, folio 77 verso (D07835).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, revised ed.1984, pp.79–80, no.113
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.454, no.1286

David Blayney Brown
June 2009

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How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Frittlewell Sketchbook 1809’, sketchbook, June 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/frittlewell-sketchbook-r1135709, accessed 20 January 2022.