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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Hedging and Ditching c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Hedging and Ditching circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII W
Pencil and watercolour on white wove writing paper, 184 x 258 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and J.C. Easling, ‘Hedging and Ditching’, published Turner, 23 May 1812
Along with Hind Head Hill, St Catherine’s Hill near Guildford and Water Mill (see Tate D08130, D08137, D08140; Turner Bequest CXVII C, J, M) this Liber Studiorum composition is derived from sketches in the Spithead sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest C), generally thought to have been made on Turner’s round trip from London to Portsmouth in October and November 1807.1 In this case, the source is a very slight drawing (D06571; C 47), which appears to record only the two figures second and fourth from left in the present work; the man at the lower left and the woman were either recalled from memory or invented. The woman is reminiscent of some of the back views in the 1801 Scotch Figures sketchbook (for example Tate D03447; Turner Bequest LIX 7, LXXVIII), and 1802 Swiss Figures sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXVIII), although this is probably fortuitous.
The processes of hedging and ditching were conspicuous signs of the process of enclosure of agricultural land, which had gathered momentum in the eighteenth century.2 In Modern Painters, Ruskin’s usual interpretation of Turner’s mood in the Liber led him to describe the composition and its tree-like inhabitants,
with its bleak sky and blighted trees – hacked, and bitten, and starved by the clay soil into something between trees and firewood; its meanly-faced, sickly labourers – pollard labourers, like the willow trunk they hew; and the slatternly peasant-woman, with worn cloak and battered bonnet – an English Dryad [an ironic evocation of mythological wood nymphs].3
In an unpublished passage, he expanded on the condition of the trees themselves in anthropomorphic terms:
the expression of steady commonplace-character in a bitter world. Some capacities of grace about the poor things once, had they been left to themselves or pruned wisely; some remnants of it even yet, ... for the most part hacked and blighted and cropped or withered away, hardly knowing whether they are still trees or only firewood. There is no tragedy allowed them neither, no pity to be had from anybody; they never can have had polite people to look at them. Advisable agricultural operations going on, bleak wind, angry clouds and vulgar people, penned, uncomfortable sheep – such life must they still bud and blossom for as best may be.4
Stopford Brooke also made anthropomorphic connections between the setting and its ‘coarse’ inhabitants, who nevertheless ‘are not vulgar. They are of the earth, and have the dignity of the earth.’ He compared the life cycle of the trees to that of the woodmen, who ‘had strength while they worked, and the English sturdiness. And in this ... the willow is their image.’5 Although Ruskin initially praised the ‘fullness and completion’6 of such domestic compositions in the Liber, he later came to feel that in this and other such subjects ‘the commonplace prevails to an extent greatly destructive of the value of the series, ... introducing rather discord than true opponent emotion among the grander designs of pastoral and mountain scenery.’7
Gillian Forrester has noted the possible patriotic significance of agricultural and forestry work in the Liber, during Britain’s wars with Napoleon,8 and Turner’s inaccuracy in projecting the scene forward into optimistic spring or early summer, to judge by the foliage since, just as he had recorded it, hedging is carried out in the winter, between the annual cycles of growth.9 However, Brooke had read the season as ‘late autumn, and a light frost is setting in as the sun in the afternoon declines.’10
The composition is recorded, as ‘10[:] 1 Hedging and Ditching’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12158; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)11 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.12 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘Hedging and Ditching’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a).13
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by J.C. Easling, bears the publication date 23 May 1812 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Hedging and Ditching’ in part 10, together with the free Frontispiece (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.47–51 and 1;14 see also Tate D08150, D08152–D08154; Turner Bequest CXVII X, Y, Z, Vaughan Bequest CXVII V). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01004) and the published engraving (A01005). It is one of fourteen published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Pastoral’ category (see also Tate D08102, D08111, D08116, D08121, D08127, D08136, D08140, D08145, D08158, D08167; Turner Bequest CXVI A, J, O, T, Z, CXVII I, M, Q, CXVIII D, M; and Tate N02941).
See Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, p.138.
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.38.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, p.433.
Ibid., ‘Appendix II. Additional Passages from the MS. of “Modern Painters,” Vol. V. 1. Character in Trees’, pp.479–80.
Brooke 1885, pp.159, 160.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, pp.236, 586.
Notes by Mr. Ruskin. ... On his Drawings by the Late J.M.W. Turner, R.A. ..., exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 1878, in ibid., XIII 1904, p.434.
Forrester 1996, pp.29, 109, 140.
Ibid., p.109.
Brooke 1885, p.158.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.6–8, 97–106; 1906, pp.[9]–11, 114–24; Finberg 1924, pp.1–4, 185–204.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘J Whatman | 1801’; the same paper – made at Turkey Mill in Kent by William Balston and the Hollingworth Brothers – and Indian Red pigment were used for the Liber drawings Juvenile Tricks, Marine Dabblers and Young Anglers (Tate D08127, D08133, D08136; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII F, I).1 There are several adventitious spots of Mars red on the sheet, and a scratch has been badly retouched (to the right of the main tree trunk, in line with the horizon). There is pencil work in the foreground figures. Heavy washes were followed by brushwork and generally light scratching-out. The overall colour is a very warm brown, comprising an Indian red pigment.2
Forrester 1996, pp.70, 71 note 1, 109 (paper analysis by Peter Bower, and pigment analysis by Joyce Townsend, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘W ?’ top centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – W’ bottom left
The sheet is badly abraded where it was previously stuck down, and is very thin in places.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Hedging and Ditching c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-hedging-and-ditching-r1131752, accessed 19 June 2024.