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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Juvenile Tricks c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Juvenile Tricks circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVI Z
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 185 x 264 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 William Say, ‘JUVENILE TRICKS’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
Along with Marine Dabblers and Young Anglers (see Tate D08133, D08136; Turner Bequest CXVII F, I) this composition is one of three Liber Studiorum subjects showing boys playing. In Modern Painters, Ruskin praised them as an aspect of ‘a range of feeling which no other painter, as far as I know, can equal. He cannot, for instance, draw children at play as well as [William] Mulready; but just glean out of his works the evidence of his sympathy’.1 In addition, Gillian Forrester has discussed the likely influence of the figure compositions of George Morland and Turner’s new rival in the mid 1800s, David Wilkie, on the ‘Pastoral’ category of the Liber.2 Finberg also recognised ‘Turner’s bent towards homely realism’,3 though Rawlinson ‘could well spare the comic element in Liber. In the happily few cases in which Turner attempted, as here, to introduce it, his awkward handling is itself ludicrous.’4 Stopford Brooke was bemused that ‘one who could draw with elaborating love and with equal keenness of eye and heart the mystical beauty of Nature should represent humanity under forms so revolting.’5
Although Brooke was certain that the setting was Green Park,6 Rawlinson assumed it was Hyde Park,7 and perhaps Hyde Park’s ‘dipping well’8 is shown. Large stipple engravings after Francis Wheatley and Maria Spilsbury, respectively The Dipping Well in Hyde Park9 and The Drinking Well in Hyde Park (Guildhall Library Print Room, London, p5419784), had been published in 1802. Both depict genteel groups in wooded parkland, gathered around small troughs set into the ground – apparently enclosing springs, as water flows away in each case. They are probably the two mentioned in a later guidebook as being on the north side of the Serpentine;10 health-giving properties were presumably attributed to them. Two undated, early nineteenth-century aquatints by William Pickett also show figures gathering at the wells, with terraced houses similar to Turner’s on the skyline (Guildhall Library Print Room, London, p5415237 and p541583x). In Spilsbury’s composition, women and children are shown filling glasses provided from a table by a paid attendant; in Wheatley’s, several babies and young children are shown being undressed, dipped in the water and dried by nursemaids or attendants as parents look on. Turner may have known the site and the prints and there could perhaps be obscure element of parody in his Liber design; given that there appears to be a degree of organisation in the boys’ activities, he may be representing an apprentices’ initiation rite.11
The composition is recorded, as ‘5[:] 1 Juvenile Tricks’, 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)12 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.13 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘6 Juvenile Tricks’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a).14
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘JUVENILE TRICKS’ in part 5 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.22–26;15 see also Tate D08128, D08129, D08130, D08131; Turner Bequest CXVII A, B, C, D). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00954) and the published engraving (A00955). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Pastoral’ category (see also Tate D08102, D08111, D08116, D08121, D08136, D08140, D08145, D08151, D08158, D08167; CXVI A, J, O, T, CXVII I, M, Q, W, CXVIII D, M; and Tate N02941).
Cook and Wedderburn VI 1904, p.26.
Forrester 1996, p.70.
Finberg 1910, p.57.
Rawlinson 1878, p.50.
Brooke 1885, p.[75].
Rawlinson 1878, p.50.
See MS annotation to Rawlinson 1878, p.50, in Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room copy.
Mary Webster, Francis Wheatley, Studies in British Art, London 1970, p.187 no.E155; after painting of circa 1795: ibid., p.152 no.113, reproduced.
[Edward Mogg], Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to its Sights, [London] 1844, quoted in ‘Entertainment and Recreation: Parks, Commons and Heaths: Hyde Park’, The Victorian Dictionary, accessed 13 April 2006, http://www.victorianlondon.org/.
Forrester 1996, p.71 and note 6.
Ibid., pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
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 Marine Dabblers and Young Anglers, and for a further Liber design, Hedging and Ditching (Tate CXVII W; Turner Bequest D08151).1 A tall, standing figure is drawn in pencil between the two right-hand boys, but was not incorporated into the watercolour composition; the apparently arbitrary tonal division of the bank between these two (as also transcribed into the subsequent print) is accounted for by the left-hand, dark area originally being intended for the legs of the cancelled figure, the top of whose head would have corresponded with the top edge of the dark bank above.
Forrester 1996, pp.70, 71 note 1 (paper analysis by Peter Bower, and pigment analysis by Joyce Townsend, acknowledged p.8).
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘10’ [circled] and ‘22’ centre, and ‘D08127 | CXVI. Z’ and ‘(R.22)’ bottom left
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVI – Z’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Juvenile Tricks 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-juvenile-tricks-r1131729, accessed 19 June 2024.