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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner London from Greenwich c.1808-9

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
London from Greenwich circa 1808–9
Turner Bequest CXVII D
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 181 x 262 mm
Part watermark ‘18[...] | J Wh[...]’ (identified as: ‘J Whatman | 1801’: see main catalogue text)
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 Charles Turner, ‘London, from Greenwich | Picture in the possession of Walter Fawkes Esqr. of Farnley.’, published Turner, 1 January 1811
The twin Baroque domes in Turner’s Liber Studiorum design belong to Greenwich Hospital, founded by Royal Charter in 1694 for the benefit of seamen, and planned by Sir Christopher Wren; later the Royal Naval College, the site is now home to the University of Greenwich. In front of it, below the bend in the Thames, is Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House, flanked by colonnades and pavilions which were under construction for the Royal Naval Asylum just at the time Turner was producing his views (he incorporated scaffolding when he came to etch the Liber design). The house and pavilions are now occupied by the National Maritime Museum. They are seen from One Tree Hill, on the east side of Greenwich Park. On the horizon, flanked by the spires of the City churches, is the dome of Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, some five miles to the north-west, with Westminster Abbey beyond it to the left.
In the early 1790s, John Robert Cozens had composed a similar view, of which six watercolour versions are known1 (including: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London); the hospital’s domes and the London skyline appear above denser trees, with deer in the foreground. Turner knew Cozens’s work from the collection of his early patron Dr Monro and may have been aware of at least one version. His acquaintance Philippe James (Jacques) de Loutherbourg had also represented the scene in his 1780s Eidophusikon,2 a miniature ‘theatre’ representing landscapes with dynamic effects of light and weather.
According to the lettering of the Liber Studiorum engraving, by 1811 his patron Walter Fawkes owned Turner’s painting London from Greenwich Park, to which the present design closely relates. It had been exhibited at Turner’s gallery in 1809, and was subsequently exchanged, remained in his studio and was included in his bequest (Tate N00483).3 The significance of the extensive view of London view in relation to the Augustan poets and Turner’s expression of patriotism and economic progress, albeit mixed with personal pessimism, has been discussed in depth by Andrew Wilton,4 and further considered by Gillian Forrester.5 Turner had long known the site, making a slight study of the domes in the Wilson sketchbook of 1796–7 (Tate D01167; Turner Bequest XXXVII 50). He later made a careful pencil drawing which served to establish the composition of the painting (Tate D08228; Turner Bequest CXX N), augmented by various sketches in the Greenwich sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CII).
There is a variant Liber-style wash study at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, presumably executed at the same time, since it and the Tate work were originally part of a single sheet, as deduced from the single watermark they share;6 the vertical watermark runs off the top edge of the present sheet. There are various differences in the fall of light on the Hospital, the terrain and trees in the foreground and the placing of the deer, but the two are relatively close variations. The Whitworth version may have come first, as it relies more on preliminary pencil work;7 the right-hand side of its composition terminates with repoussoir trees rising to obscure the horizon line – as in the detailed pencil study noted above. As Gillian Forrester has observed, it was highly unusual for Turner to have produced variant wash designs for a Liber plate (but see discussion of the two drawings for the unpublished Temple of Jupiter in the Island of Aegina, under Tate D08173; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII S); in response to a previous commentator’s proposal that the two were made after the completion of the painting,8 she has suggested they could instead have been produced in parallel with it, implying a complex simultaneous development.9
In any event, there were further amendments when Turner came to make the outline etching for the subsequent Liber print. Finberg noted how at that stage Turner resolved the uncertainties of the drawing, where the Hospital ‘forms a straggling mass, somewhat like a chance medley of wharves and warehouses’ such that ‘in the engraving this mass has been patted together into a solid and definite structure. The distant parts of the building have been raised, and they now tell as a rigid horizontal line. The gain to the hospital in dignity and in individuality is extraordinary’.10
The composition is not recorded in Turner’s draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156–D12158; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a–24a);11 the list dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.12 This may mean that the Greenwich composition had not yet been established by then, either in the form of the painting or through the wash drawings, as discussed above.13
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers as ‘London, from Greenwich | Picture in the possession of Walter Fawkes Esqr. of Farnley.’ in part 5 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.22–26;14 see also Tate D08127, D08128, D08129, D08130; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII A, B, C). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00962) and the published engraving (A00963). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Architectural’ category (see also Tate D08110, D08115, D08118, D08126, D08135, D08142, D08154, D08157, D08160; Turner Bequest CXVI I, N, Q, Y, Turner Bequest CXVII H, O, Z, CXVIII C, F).
Michael Broughton, William Clarke, Joanna Selborne and others, The Spooner Collection of British Watercolours at the Courtauld Institute Gallery, [London] 2005, p.130.
Forrester 1996, p.75.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.69–70 no.97, pl.104 (colour).
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.135
Forrester 1996, pp.75–6.
Ibid., pp.75, 76 note 2 (analysis by Peter Bower).
Townsend, circa 1995.
Craig Hartley, Turner Watercolours in the Whitworth Art Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1984, p.43.
Forrester 1996 p.75.
Finberg 1910, p.80; see also Brooke 1885, p.[88].
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, pp.13, 75
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Technical notes:
The sheet may have been washed first. A dull brown was followed by cooler washes, some applied very wet. Prominent fingerprints are evident in the dark foliage at the lower left. The deer were worked by washing out an area, then outlining with small brushstrokes. Very soft curling lines for were used for the foliage. There are warm and cool areas of colour, though only one pigment, an umber shade, was used.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ’26 | D’ and ‘14’ [ circled] centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – D’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘London from Greenwich c.1808–9 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-london-from-greenwich-r1131733, accessed 19 June 2024.