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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Somerset House from the River Thames ?1798-1802

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Somerset House from the River Thames ?1798–1802
Turner Bequest XLIV G
Pencil and wash on white card, 91 x 155 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Stamped in black ‘XLIV – G’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Although cut down, this is a card similar to those used by Turner for the other works in the group catalogued here; the blue trials on the verso (D40255) have parallels on other cards. The drawing is unexpectedly dramatic, making use as it does of powerful contrasts of tone, with the details of Somerset House itself and the masts of barges worked heavily in black lead point over a dark wash.
Somerset House was by this date the home of the Royal Academy and its annual exhibitions, and Turner may have had it in mind to make a grand topographical view featuring the building. In its broad simplifications of mass and tone the drawing is reminiscent of some compositional studies in the Dolbadarn sketchbook of about 1799; compare for instance the marine subject, Tate D02173 (Turner Bequest XLVI 118a).
The notes of French vocabulary on the back of the card suggest that it may have been in use while Turner was planning his journey to France in 1802.
Technical notes:
The sheet is stained and dirty. Finberg describes the support as ‘card tinted brown’,1 but the drawing is so stained that it is difficult to determine whether this is an effect deliberately sought by Turner.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

Finberg 1909, I, p.107.

How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Somerset House from the River Thames ?1798–1802 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-somerset-house-from-the-river-thames-r1174992, accessed 21 October 2021.