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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Blacksmith's Shop c.1824

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Blacksmith’s Shop circa 1824
Turner Bequest CXVI H
Watercolour on white wove paper, 198 x 275 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CXVI H’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This study, possibly for a Liber Studiorum subject, may be a distant echo of Turner’s early genre scene, painted in rivalry with the young David Wilkie, A Country Blacksmith Disputing upon the Price of Iron, and the Price Charged to the Butcher for Shoeing his Poney, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807 (Tate, N00478).1 Sir John Leicester (the future Lord de Tabley) had bought it in the following year and Turner reacquired it at the latter’s estate sale in 1827; its first exhibition had coincided with the publication of part 1 of the Liber.
Here, the ‘Rembrandtian darks and lights’2 of the cave-like space are created by rapid washes and reserving the blank paper at the centre, possibly indicating the firelight thrown by the blacksmith’s forge. There appears to be a second figure just beyond and to the right of the silhouetted one, almost lost in the glare but with the shadows of its face and head touched in with wash, and a shadow thrown against the arch. In the relative gloom to the right may be the washed-out figure of a woman, possibly carrying a child indicated by darker strokes, with a white horse against the wall beyond; the reserved area in front of them may be for another figure, perhaps kneeling or seated. The presence of a woman and child would be in the tradition of the nocturnal industrial scenes of Joseph Wright of Derby, such as An Iron Forge, exhibited in 1772 (Tate T06670). Turner had made chiaroscuro studies of forges and foundries earlier in his career (for example, Tate D00873; Turner Bequest XXXIII B). The dark 1800s painting of an industrial interior reworked and exhibited in 1847 as The Hero of a Hundred Fights (Tate N00551)3 uses similar formal means to dramatise the processes of metalworking.
This sheet was once part of a larger one, later divided into four,4 each quarter of which Turner worked on in watercolour. In relation to the others, it was at the top left, with a seascape (Tate D25373; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 251) inverted to its right. The quarters originally below them comprise two Liber-style, brown wash landscape studies, Tate D08108 (Turner Bequest CXVI G) – on the verso in relation to the other three – and Tate D08222 (Turner Bequest CXX I); there is no overlap of washes between the two lower quarters and those above, implying that half of the sheet was separated and halved again before work commenced. Apparently, the present work and the seascape were begun while still joined, as the dark wash at the top here continues as the sea in the latter (although there is a slight vertical break in the wash on the latter sheet, possibly due to a fold between them). There are other overlaps of wash from the right-hand edge of the present composition to the corresponding edge of the seascape. When the two were separated, they were left uneven, with a jagged matching edge at one corner, and a thin strip of wash from the upper right of this composition evident on the other.
The present work and D08108 (CXVI G) were listed in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory in his first grouping of Liber drawings, dated to circa 1806–10,5 which later commentators have followed. However, the two further quarters share the watermark ‘Whatman | Turkey Mills | 1822’. As Gillian Forrester notes, such works ‘may be ideas for pure mezzotint’ or ‘may not have been made with print-making in mind at all.’6 If there is a direct connection between any of them and the Liber, it is possible that they date to circa 1824, around the time Turner was working on other unpublished designs, such as The Felucca (Tate D08175; Turner Bequest CXVIII U) and Moonlight on the Medway (Tate D25451; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 328).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.52–3 no.68, pl.78 (colour).
Hamilton 1998, p.49.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.271–2 no.427, pl.432 (colour).
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.
Finberg 1909, I, p.316.
Forrester 1996, p.25 note 92.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil diagonally ‘No 4’ top left, ‘15’ and ‘8’ [circled] centre, and ‘Blacksmith’s shop’ and ‘CXVI H [corrected from ?E]’ bottom right
There are also a few apparently random splashes of wash.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Blacksmith’s Shop c.1824 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, 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/joseph-mallord-william-turner-blacksmiths-shop-r1131801, accessed 14 June 2024.