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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Hind Head Hill c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Hind Head Hill circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII C
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 182 x 259 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching, mezzotint and drypoint by Turner and Robert Dunkarton, ‘Hind Head Hill. | On the Portsmouth Road’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
Hindhead, Surrey, lies on the main Portsmouth to London road, about thirteen miles south-west of Guildford. To its east, Gibbet Hill rises above the Devil’s Punchbowl to a height of 894 feet (272 metres). Much of the surrounding heathland, common grazing land in Turner’s time, is owned by the National Trust. In the 1780s, when the area was wild and comparatively isolated, three footpads had murdered a sailor here; their gibbet stood on the hill well into the nineteenth century, and the site was later marked by the Sailor’s Stone.1
Along with St Catherine’s Hill near Guildford, Water Mill and Hedging and Ditching (see Tate D08137, D08140, D08151; Turner Bequest CXVII J, M, W) this Liber Studiorum composition is derived from sketches made in the Spithead sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest C), and generally considered as a by-product of a round trip from London to Portsmouth in October and November 1807.2 The Hindhead studies (Tate D06574, D06576, D06578, D06580; Turner Bequest C 48a, 49a, 50a, 51a) are extremely slight; the Liber composition combines the horizon line of hills in C 49a and the valley in C 50a, with the addition of the common in the foreground. Both sketches give a summary indication of the gibbet which becomes the focus of the design.
Turner was moved by the atmosphere and history of the site to compose some verses inside the back cover of the Spithead sketchbook (Tate D40614):
Hind head tho[u] cloud-capt winded hill
In every wind that heaven does fill
On thy dark hearth [?heath] the traveller mourns
Ice[y] night approach & ...groans
The low wan sun has downwards sunk
The steamy Vale looks dark and dank
The doubtful road scarce [...] seen
Nor sky lights give the doubtful green
But all seem[s] d[r]ear & horror
Hark the kreaking irons
Hark the screeching owl3
In the present drawing, three ragged bodies or skeletons are shown swinging from the gibbet in the wind, whereas in the published mezzotint a body hangs vertically at each end silhouetted against bright clouds; Gillian Forrester has suggested that Turner may have recognised a fortuitous opportunity for a visual pun on the initial of his surname.4
The composition is recorded, as ‘5[:] 4 Hind Head’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)5 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.6 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘1 Hind Head’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).7
The Liber Studiorum etching, drypoint and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Robert Dunkarton, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Hind Head Hill. | On the Portsmouth Road’ in part 5 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.22–26;8 see also Tate D08127, D08128, D08129, D08131; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII A, B, D). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00960) and the published engraving (A00961). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08123, D08134, D08148, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; CXVI L, R, V, CXVII G, T, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII B, G).
The National Trust, accessed 8 December 2005, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-global/w-south_east-places-west_weald-hindhead_devils_punchbowl.htm; see also Wilton 1980, p.110; and Forrester 1996, p.74.
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.
As transcribed in Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.156; see also pp.41–2.
Forrester 1996, p.74.
Ibid., pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Technical notes:
There is no pencil work in the present drawing; washes were followed by brushwork and scratching-out. The sheep were done economically with few brushstrokes. The overall warm brown colour comprises two or three brown pigments.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘C | 13’ [latter circled] centre, upside down ‘Hind | Head’ centre (below previous inscription), and ‘D08130’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – C’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Hind Head Hill 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-hind-head-hill-r1131732, accessed 20 June 2024.