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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Peat Bog, Scotland c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Peat Bog, Scotland circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII T
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 190 x 268 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 George Clint, ‘Peat Bog, Scotland’, published Turner, 23 April 1812
There is no known direct source for Turner’s Liber Studiorum design, though it is derived from impressions gathered on his first tour of Scotland in 1801. It is comparable to some of the mountain studies among the tonal ‘Scottish Pencil’ drawings, such as Tate D03392, D03395 and in particular D03417 (Turner Bequest LVIII 13, 16, 38). Ruskin considered the design ‘taken, with hardly any modification by pictorial influence, straight from nature’1 and Rawlinson expanded on this, ranking it ‘among the great plates of Liber. It is throughout eminently Turnerian. No influence of any other master, no reminiscences or traditions of any earlier school, are to be traced in it. The painter has gone straight to nature; but how truly he has seen, how finely has he drawn what he has seen; how simply, yet tellingly, has he composed his drawing.’2 Andrew Wilton has seen the composition as evidence of Turner’s experience of Scotland leading to a move from the Picturesque towards the Sublime, such that ‘there is no longer any wish ... to charm his audience with the polite formalities of picture-making.’3 Ruskin had observed: ‘Under the influence of such scenery Turner learned to despise the affectations of Italian landscape and the comforts of the Dutch, and prepared himself for the higher grandeur and more threatening gloom of the Alps.’4
In Modern Painters, Ruskin saw the composition as typical of the pessimistic atmosphere of the Liber (not ‘happy rural toil’, but ‘patient striving with hard conditions of life’), showing ‘cold, dark rain, and dangerous labour.’5 The arduous task of cutting the peat both for personal use and as part payment of rent would have occupied a significant proportion of tenant farmers’ time.6 Stopford Brooke noted that ‘of all the wretched figures in the Liber Studiorum, these are the most battered, torn, and tortured by their fate.’ However, Turner ‘may have felt that there were elements in the life of the Highland poor – strength of soul, rugged intelligence, faithful imagination – which redeemed its misery; and, so feeling, have made the storm to pass away and the rainbow to enlighten the mountains.’7 The threatening weather has been seen as an early example of Turner’s clouds and skies as ‘symbolic spectral configurations’ with ‘the grim bogey ... perfectly in place among the sombre clouds and misty rocks of the moorland’.8
The composition is recorded, as ‘8[:] 5 Peat Bog’, 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)9 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.10 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Peat Bog’, in a list of ‘Mountainous’ subjects (Tate D12166; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 28a).11
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by George Clint, bears the publication date 23 April 1812 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Peat Bog, Scotland’ in part 9 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.42–46;12 see also Tate D08145–D08147, D08149; Turner Bequest CXVII Q, R, S, Vaughan Bequest CXVII U). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01000) and the published engraving (A01001). Forrester has contrasted the ‘the deeply incised lines’ of the etching, expressing ‘the solidity of the ancient peat bog’ with the ‘delicate’ mezzotint conveying ‘the quicksilver changeability of the atmospheric conditions.’13 It is one of fourteen published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Mountainous’ category (see also Tate D08113, D08119, D08123, D08130, D08134, D08153, D08156, D08161, D08164, D08165; Turner Bequest CXVI L, R, CXVII C, G, Y, CXVIII J, K, Vaughan Bequest CXVI V, CXVIII B, G).
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1864 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi14 (see general Liber introduction).
Around 1936–8, Frank Short etched and mezzotinted this composition,15 as one of his interpretations of the published Liber plates (Tate T05057;16 see general Liber introduction).
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.399; see also Forrester 1996, p.32.
Rawlinson 1878, p.93.
Wilton 1980, p.[155].
‘Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series’ in Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing..., in Cook and Wedderburn XXI 1906, p.219.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, pp.432, 433.
See Ann Chumbley and Ian Warrell, Turner and the Human Figure: Studies of Contemporary Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1989, p.39.
Brooke 1885, p.150.
Egri 1991, p.140; see also Brooke 1885, p.152.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.162 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.86–96; 1906, pp.101–13; Finberg 1924, pp.165–84.
Forrester 1996, p.107.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.180.
Hardie 1938, pp.53–4 no.16, reproduced p.[83] pl.II.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.73.
Technical notes:
Given the similarities in ‘technique, pigment and subject’, it has been suggested that Turner may have intended the present design as a contrast to Chain of Alps from Grenoble to Chamberi, published in the next part of the Liber (see Tate D08153; Turner Bequest CXVII Y).1 There are no pencil outlines; washing and washing-out, with some brushstrokes and scratching-out, have been used. Brushstrokes (untypically for the Liber) emphasise the mountain tops. Washing-out has been used for low lights, scratching-out for the brighter ones, and both used for figures in the foreground. The overall very warm brown colour results from the use of an Indian red pigment.2
Forrester 1996, p.111.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘T ?’ centre (originally ‘I’, but overwritten)
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – T’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Peat Bog, Scotland 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-peat-bog-scotland-r1131750, accessed 19 June 2024.