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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Drawing of the Clyde circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Drawing of the Clyde circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI U
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 185 x 260 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, ‘Drawing of the CLYDE. In the possession of J.M.W. Turner.’, published Charles Turner, 29 March 1809
Turner based his Liber Studiorum design on a large watercolour, The Fall of the Clyde, Lanarkshire: Noon. – vide Akenside’s Hymn to the Naiads, which he had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802 (336), which, as indicated by the lettering on the engraving, remained in his possession in 1809 (Walker Art Gallery (National Museums Liverpool) 864).1 The setting was derived from pencil and watercolour studies from the Smaller Fonthill sketchbook (some sheets at Tate; Turner Bequest XLVIII), now at the National Gallery of Scotland, the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art;2 several other Liber designs were derived from the same book: Coast of Yorkshire, Rivaux Abbey and Dumblain Abbey, Scotland (Tate D08129, D08154, D08157; Turner Bequest CXVII B, Z, CXVIII C), and Solway Moss.3
Turner had visited the site near Lanark on his first tour of Scotland in 1801. The composition of the watercolour and the Liber design is deceptively simple, however, as its overt subject of women bathing by the falls is underpinned by the reference to the poem by Mark Akenside (1721–1770), dense with references to classical mythology but also to the modern world (for instance, the Thames and the Medway), expounding the relevance of the ‘nymphs, who preside over springs and rivulets’ (and other natural phenomena) contributing ‘to the fullness of navigable rivers, and consequently to the maintenance of commerce; and by that means, to the maritime part of military power.’4 As a more immediately visual image, Turner may have had in mind Akenside’s lines on the nymphs, under
Some grotto’s dripping arch, at height of noon
To slumber, shelter’d from the burning heaven.5
Akenside also provided notes on the way the surrounding atmosphere, heated by the sun, is affected by the differences in temperature and motion of rivers and steams,6 thus enabling Turner to address both naturalistic and allegorical aspects.
There are major differences in Turner’s Liber composition as compared with the original watercolour. The whole middle distance of rocks and rapids has been removed, and the horizon effectively lowered and the gorge narrowed, and the waterfall brought forward. The bathers who occupied the upper rocks have been rearranged in the immediate foreground.
The composition is recorded, as ‘4[:] 2 Clyde’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)7 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.8 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘Clyde fall’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).9
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 29 March 1809 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Drawing of the CLYDE. In the possession of J.M.W. Turner.’ in part 4 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.17–21;10 see also Tate D08121, D08123, D08125, D08126; Turner Bequest CXVI T, V, X, Y). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00945) and the published engraving (A00946). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction, and drawings Tate D08103, D08112, D08117, D08128, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; Turner Bequest CXVI B, K, P, CXVII A, E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N). In 1890, the print was reproduced as a facsimile photogravure in the South Kensington Drawing-Book, with additional hand-engraving by Frank Short.11
Towards the end of his career, Turner used this composition as the basis of one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see general Liber introduction for details); the painting, The Falls of the Clyde, is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight (National Museums Liverpool)12 – as John Gage has noted, Turner concentrated through colour on ‘the elemental forces of nature’.13
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.339 no.343, reproduced.
Ibid., p.336, respectively nos.322, 323, 324, all reproduced.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.107–8 no.52; 1906, pp.125–8 no.52; Finberg 1924, pp.205–8 no.52.
‘Argument’ of Akenside’s Hymn to the Naiads, quoted in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.131; see also Wilton 1980, p.110
Hymn, lines 20–1; see also lines 45–50 as quoted in John Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London, 1969, p.144.
Also quoted in Gage 1969, p.144
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.40–9; 1906, pp.49–58; Finberg 1924, pp.65–84.
[John Ward] ed., Frederick Wedmore, Frank Short and others, The South Kensington Drawing-Book. A Selection from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. for Artists, Art Students, and Amateurs. A Drawing-Book Suggested by the Writings of Mr. Ruskin..., London [1890], opposite p.22.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.300–1 no.510, pl.512 (colour).
Gage 1969, p.143.
Technical Notes:
There is no pencil work; the image is made up of washes, followed by fine brushstrokes, with extensive scratching-out. Once the areas for the nymphs were washed out and outlined with brushstrokes, the highlights were scratched out; there is also fine scratching in the foliage and rocks, and deeper scratches where the waterfall catches the light. The overall colour is a very warm brown, made up of Indian red and sepia shades.1 In Rawlinson’s opinion: ‘Good impressions of the Print are much finer than the sepia Drawing, which has none of the play of light ... rays of light such as we have here, and similar atmospheric effects, were after-thoughts, added by Turner’s directions whilst they were being engraved.’2 Strong diagonal shafts of light were introduced during the printmaking process, most noticeably across the foliage and rocks from the upper left.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Rawlinson 1878, p.42.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘<500>’, ‘+’, and ‘500’ top centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – U’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2009

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Drawing of the Clyde c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 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/joseph-mallord-william-turner-drawing-of-the-clyde-r1131724, accessed 21 June 2024.