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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Isis c.1810-15

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Isis circa 1810–15
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII N
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 209 x 302 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Henry Vaughan by 1878, and possibly by 1862
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, ‘ISIS’, published Turner, 1 January 1819
Turner’s Liber Studiorum composition is based on his painting, traditionally known as The Thames at Weybridge, of circa 1805–6 (Tate, T03872, displayed at Petworth House, West Sussex),1 then in the collection of his patron Lord Egremont – as indicated by the lettering of the published print. Other Liber studies (Tate D08114, D08185; Turner Bequest CXVI M, CXVIII e) relate to Turner’s paintings in the same collection; as do the unpublished prints Narcissus and Echo,2 for which no drawing is known, and (at one remove, from Turner’s painting, Tate N00495,3 based on Egremont’s Claude) Apullia in Search of Appullus4 (see general Liber introduction).
The Weybridge identification of the painting is longstanding, but the composition is based on elements of the landscape some miles to the north-east, along the Thames at Isleworth where Turner lived at Syon Ferry House in 1805.5 Around Oxford, the Thames is locally known as the Isis (derived from an ancient form of its name, ‘Tamesis’), and it may be this resonance of earlier times that Turner wished to impart.6 The painting was informed by drawings in the Studies for Pictures; Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05494–D05497, D05502, D05531, D05535; Turner Bequest XC 3–6, 9, 29, 31;7 see also D05501, D05503, D05530, D05556; XC 8a, 9a, 30, 42), at least some of which show the view south-west from Kew, with the Dutch House (now Kew Palace) and the new but short-lived castellated palace nearby.8 Other drawings in the book develop idealised, classical waterside compositions, as Turner used ‘Neo-classical building[s] beside the Thames to imply, if not actually to create, an antique landscape.’9
Early Liber commentators stated that the present design showed a ‘Temple of Isis’ in Petworth Park,10 but the eighteenth-century, Ionic open rotunda which Turner drew on a later visit (see 1828 Roman and French sketchbook, Tate D21957, Turner Bequest CCXXXVII 59)11 stands on a wooded hill away from the lake.12 The structure also has affinities with the rotunda at Sion Ferry House, shown in Isleworth, another classicising Liber composition of about the same date (see Tate D08163; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII I) which Turner may have thought of as a pair with Isis.13 The peacock and classical entablature in the foreground are both also present in the Frontispiece of the Liber, issued in 1812 (see etching with wash, Tate D08150; Vaughan Bequest CXVII V). A ‘covert allusion’14 has been suggested to another of Turner’s Thameside subjects, his painting Pope’s Villa at Twickenham, exhibited in 1808 (private collection),15 a scene of demolition, or ‘desolation’ as Turner put it, in a poem addressed to ‘Dear Sister Isis’ (Verse Book, p.11, private collection).16 Andrew Wilton has proposed the influence an additional site, Temple or Regatta Island and the stretch of the river at Henley-on-Thames; but as he points out, the composition (deriving ultimately from Claude Lorrain – see general Liber introduction) ‘moves to a plane rather more remote from the reality of the Thames’ than the Isleworth design.17
The composition is noted, as ‘Ld Egremont Isis – EP’, with various other Liber subjects inside the back cover (Tate D40871; Turner Bequest CXLIII) of the Liber Notes (1) sketchbook; Gillian Forrester dates Turner’s list to 1815, as two of the subjects were printed by the beginning of 1816.18 It also appears, as ‘Egremonts Isis’, in a list of subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12163; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 27); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.19 It is noted again, as ‘Say’s Peacock’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX),20 and, as ‘Say ... Isis’, with other subjects in the Farnley sketchbook (Tate D11998; Turner Bequest CLIII 2a). The latter list was possibly complied during Turner’s visit to Farnley in November 1818 and is headed ‘Liber Studiorum Plates out Jany 1 1819’.21
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by S.W. Reynolds, bears the publication date 1 January 1819 and was issued to subscribers as ‘ISIS | Picture in the Possession of the Earl of Egremont.’ in part 14 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.67–71;22 see also Tate D08167 and D08169; Turner Bequest CXVIII M, O). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01142) and the published engraving (A01143). It is one of eleven published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction, and drawings Tate D08103, D08112, D08117, D08122, D08128, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163; Turner Bequest CXVI B, K, P, U, CXVII A, E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I).
Forrester has drawn attention to an impression of the final state of the print ‘extensively touched in watercolour washes’ (Royal Academy, London, Allen Collection, 68E), suggesting that Turner might have been thinking of a developing new version in oils at some later date (see general Liber introduction for discussion of 1840s paintings derived from the series).23
In 1890, the print was reproduced as a facsimile photogravure in the South Kensington Drawing-Book, with additional hand-engraving by Frank Short.24
Although Henry Vaughan certainly owned the present work by 1878,25 it may have been in his possession as early as 1862. An original mounted photograph of it in the Witt Library (Courtauld Institute of Art, London), taken by ‘J. Hogarth Jun.’, credits Vaughan in its printed lettering. Although the publication details have apparently been trimmed from the Witt copy, a photograph of Vaughan’s version of the Temple of Jupiter design for the Liber (Tate D08173; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII S), also in the Witt, is in the same format but with its lettering intact: ‘London, Published by J. Hogarth, Haymarket, | Dec.31. 1862.’ Ruskin included a photograph of the Isis watercolour among examples of the Liber prints in his 1870s selections for Oxford University26 (see also Moonlight at Sea (The Needles): Tate D08176; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII V).
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.126 no.204, pl.201 (colour), as circa 1807–10.
Rawlinson 1878, p.168 no.90; 1906, pp.195 no.90; Finberg 1924, pp.359–61 no.90.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.91–2 no.128, pl.134.
Ibid.: 1878, pp.144–5 no.72; 1906, pp.169–70 no.72; 1924, pp.287–90 no.72.
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993, p.122.
Ibid.; see also Forrester 1996, p.130 and note 3.
Forrester 1996, reproduced p.130 no.68i.
Hill 1993, p.160; see ‘Kew Palace and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage’, Historic Royal Palaces, accessed 30 May 2006, http://www.historicroyalpalaces.org/webcode/kew_home.asp.
Wilton and Turner 1990, p.139.
Rawlinson 1878, p.137; Brooke 1885, p.[234].
Identified in Christopher Rowell, Ian Warrell and David Blayney Brown, Turner at Petworth, exhibition catalogue, Petworth House, Petworth 2002, p.176.
Christopher Rowell, Petworth House, West Sussex, London 1997, pp.53, 55.
Forrester 1996, p.125.
Ibid., p.28; see also Wilton and Turner 1990, p.140.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.55–6 no.72, pl.82 (colour).
Quoted in Forrester 1996, p.28; at greater length in Butlin and Joll 1984, p.56; and in full by Rosalind Turner in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.150.
Wilton and Turner 1990, p.140.
Forrester 1996, p.159 (transcribed).
Ibid., pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.160 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.135–41; 1906, pp.159–66; Finberg 1924, pp.265–84.
Forrester 1996, p.130 and note 4.
[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.49.
Rawlinson 1878, p.136.
Catalogue of Examples (1870), no.31 and Educational Series catalogue (1874), no.137, in E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Library Edition: The Works of John Ruskin: Volume XXI: The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogues, Notes, and Instructions, London 1906, pp.65, 87.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘J Whatman | 1801’,1 and is similar to that used for the contemporary Liber drawing Isleworth (see above). There is no pencil work; washes and brushwork were followed by scratching-out. The lights were washed out of the sky, then darker washes applied. There is possibly some work done with the fingers. The peacock was reserved, then outlined, with highlights scratched out; opposite it, a flying bird is indicated by rapid scratching out against shadowy the foliage.2 The watercolour mixture is not very medium-rich. The overall very warm brown results from the presence of an Indian red pigment.3
Forrester 1996, p.130 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Townsend 1996, I, reproduced p.379.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘<65 | N>’ and ‘2–’ centre right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVIII – N’ bottom centre
The sheet is abraded, particularly at the edges where it was formerly stuck down.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Isis c.1810–15 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-isis-r1131771, accessed 26 August 2019.