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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Scene in the Campagna ('Woman at a Tank' or 'Hindoo Ablutions') c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Scene in the Campagna (‘Woman at a Tank’ or ‘Hindoo Ablutions’) circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII N
Watercolour on white wove writing paper, 211 x 263 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and William Say, untitled, published Turner, 1 February 1812
The present Liber Studiorum design, engraved and published without a title, was described by early commentators as showing a Hindu woman washing, implying thereby that it showed an Indian scene. Finding the traditional titles ‘unpleasing’, Rawlinson suggested a new title with reference to the Roman Campagna in the revised edition of his Liber catalogue,1 acknowledging Stopford Brooke’s description of the scene as such.2 This was adopted in turn by Finberg, who noted that Turner himself listed the composition in his MS lists as ‘Tall Tree’ (see below).
However, the references to the woman as a Hindu and the emphases on the act and location of washing may be of significance. William Chubb3 has related the composition and the similar Liber design The Temple of Minerva Medica (for drawing, with its own apparently Hindu figure, see Tate D08128; Turner Bequest CXVII A) to Turner’s probable interest in contemporary Indian topographical views by Thomas Daniell and his nephew William, frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy and published as aquatints in their Oriental Scenery (1795–1808). Turner knew the artists and their work,4 and the presence of water tanks in some of their Indian prints may have suggested the one he introduced here.5 Although there is no clear indication of Turner’s intention in this case – the woman is not self-evidently Indian, unlike the male in the Minerva Medica design, and the background is generically classical – the similarity of the two compositions appears to suggest a thematic link.
As with other designs engraved for the Liber’s ‘EP’ category (probably for ‘Elevated Pastoral’ – see general Liber introduction), Turner introduced a sense of timelessness derived from the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. Without directly criticising Claude’s influence in this instance, Ruskin dismissed the Italianate trees here and in The Temple of Minerva Medica, in comparison to Turner’s depictions of his native British woods: ‘fine in their arrangement, but they are very pitiful pines’.6
The composition is recorded, as ‘9[:] 2 Tall Tree Says’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12158; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)7 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.8 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Tall Tree’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).9
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, bears the publication date 1 February 1812 and was issued to subscribers in part 8 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.37–41;10 see also Tate D08140, D08142, D08144; Turner Bequest CXVII M, O, P). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00986) and the published engraving (A00987). 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, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; Turner Bequest CXVI B, K, P, U, CXVII A, E, J, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N).
Frank Short included this composition11 among his Twelve Subjects from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Etched and Mezzotinted by Frank Short (published by Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery, London, between 1885 and 1888), the first series of his Liber interpretations (Tate T05046;12 see general Liber introduction).
Rawlinson 1906, pp.91–2.
Brooke 1885, p.[124].
William Chubb, ‘Minerva Medica and The Tall Tree’, Turner Studies, vol.1, no.2, 1991, pp.[26]–35.
Ibid., p.[26]
Ibid., p.27 pl.3, p.28 pl.5.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.237.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.77–85; 1906, pp.90–100; Finberg 1924, pp.145–64.
Hardie 1938, pp.45–6 no.4.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, pp.69–70
Technical notes:
There is no pencil work; washes and brushwork were followed by scratching-out for foreground highlights. Washing-out was used to give definition to the sky, which had been painted on wet paper; wet washes were used in the foreground. The technique is similar to that used for Solitude, another Liber drawing of about the same date (Tate D08155; Turner Bequest CXVIII A). The overall warm brown colour comprises one burnt sienna pigment.1 When Turner came to etch the outline for the subsequent print, he considerably compressed the design, reducing its height by about an eighth as compared with the drawing: the brow of the slope above the woman was made less steep and (most noticeably on the right) the tree-trunks were shortened and made less straggling against the sky.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘N’ centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – N’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Scene in the Campagna (‘Woman at a Tank’ or ‘Hindoo Ablutions’) 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-scene-in-the-campagna-woman-at-a-tank-or-hindoo-ablutions-r1131744, accessed 19 June 2024.