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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Study for 'Harvest Home' c.1807-1812

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Study for ‘Harvest Home’ circa 1807–1812
Turner Bequest CXX C
Pencil, pen and ink and wash on white laid paper, 185 x 230mm
Watermarked ‘ALLEE’
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Ld Essex’s Harvest Home’ top right and extensively in ink top and bottom right (see main catalogue text)
Stamped in black ‘CXX C’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg suggested that this scene of rustic feasting and drinking could be a copy, and Turner’s notes a description of a picture by David Teniers. It is in fact a composition study for Harvest Home (Tate N00562),1 an unfinished oil now usually dated circa 1809 but possibly begun as early as 1807 and still in progress in 1810 or later. The subject is the companion to Cassiobury Park; Reaping (Tate N04663),2 also unfinished, for which a similar composition study exists (Tate D08217; Turner Bequest CXX D). The annotation, ‘Ld Essex’s Harvest Home’, together with the appearance of his Hertfordshire estate of Cassiobury, makes it likely that the pictures were intended for the 5th Earl of Essex. The suggestion was first made by David Hill in a letter to Martin Butlin of 18 March 1984 and was endorsed by Butlin and Joll.
A recent visit by Turner to Cassiobury was noted by Joseph Farington on 15 November 1807.3 A visit in late summer presumably coincided with the harvest supper of which on the spot sketches appear in Turner’s Harvest Home sketchbook (Tate D05352, D05353, D05354; Turner Bequest LXXXVI 2,3,4). Essex bought the first of his Turner oils, Walton Bridges (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne),4 in 1807. If the idea for the harvest picture originated that year, the timing would fit the report by Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake, when visiting Turner’s studio in 1846, that it was begun in the year of David Wilkie’s The Rent Day.5 Wilkie’s picture (private collection) was dated 1807 and exhibited in 1809. And if Turner intended to compete with Wilkie in rustic narrative, it was also in 1807 that he did so in A Country Blacksmith Disputing upon the Price of Iron (Tate N00478),6 which was exhibited at the Royal Academy near Wilkie’s The Blind Fiddler (Tate N00099).
When and why Turner abandoned the project is less clear. According to Miss Rigby he took offence at some ‘remarks’, usually supposed to be derogatory comments on his technique and prices made by Thomas Hearne at Cassiobury in July 1809, as reported by Farington.7 However, both the sketchbook and this drawing contain allusions to a third Wilkie, The Village Holiday (Tate N00122), which Turner could only have seen or heard of as a work in progress as early as October that year and was not actually exhibited until 1812. Turner’s first biographer Walter Thornbury stated that Turner had this later Wilkie in mind, rather than The Rent Day, leading Arthur Marks to suggest a date of about 1812 for Harvest Home in his study of the rivalry between the two painters.8 Unaccountably, however, Marks also dated this drawing circa 1808, a view followed by John Gage who also thought Turner’s picture ‘probably stimulated’ by the later Wilkie 9 – notions only admissible if the painting history of the Wilkie were not taken into account. Perhaps the most that can be said is that Turner continued to work on the harvest pictures having not learned of, or acted on, Hearne’s 1809 remarks at once. Or there may have been some other provocation, possibly inadvertently caused by Lord Essex himself, for the abandonment of the pictures.
On 1 December 1809 and 2 February 1810, Wilkie recorded in his journal visits from Essex to his studio, when he showed him work in progress on The Village Holiday.10 Essex approved and on the first occasion ‘said he should be glad of first refusal of it, which I told him I could not absolutely promise’ (in fact the picture was soon committed to John Julius Angerstein). This raises several possibilities. Essex might already have dropped the idea of having a pair of harvest scenes from Turner and begun to consider alternatives. Or he could have been toying with a new idea, of pairing Harvest Home with Wilkie’s picture. Thirdly, and perhaps more likely, having looked closely at Wilkie’s work, he might have concluded that Turner should stick to landscape and not attempt what Miss Rigby called ‘Wilkie’s line’. The episode could have been a further reminder, if Turner needed it, of the uncertainties of patronage and competition from his colleagues, the themes which seem to dominate his rendering of Harvest Home.
This drawing represents what is so far a fairly straightforward development of the harvest feast drawn in the sketchbook and in two rough chalk sketches in the Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05546, D05548; Turner Bequest XC 36a, 37a). It follows D05546 in showing the table set outdoors rather than in a barn, as shown in the sketchbook and in D05548. A laden hay cart appears in the background along with buildings and trees. Turner’s inscriptions highlight details and elements of narrative present or to be developed in the painted version. At top right a long note reads:
Candles & Lanthorns & Chafing Dish for the dishes | Horne Mugs Pudding dishes Water Pots for Beer – Sow and Pigs | Ducks Shepherd Boy & Dog – Master of the feast | seated behind the head of the table with a large bowl | those around him looking eager and cunning at the hope of taking it next.
Lower right of centre a further motif is described: ‘4 Men half drunk wanting | more Beer at the Barrel’; and at bottom right: ‘Woman telling off | her Husband at the Barrel’. It is this last detail, sketched above at extreme right, which establishes the link with Wilkie’s Village Holiday, for it is clearly a variation on a prominent group in Wilkie’s picture, of a woman trying to drag her reluctant husband away from his drunken friends. A sketch of this same group, which can only have been copied from Wilkie’s original or drawn after someone (?Lord Essex) had described it to Turner in some detail, is on folio 2 of the sketchbook (D05352).
In his painted Harvest Home, Turner omitted the scolding wife and kept only a trace of Wilkie’s arrangement in a group of male figures just to right of centre. But other changes to the figure groupings brought the painting closer to his Wilkie sources. The feast table became less prominent, while the action focused more on a rather downtrodden looking queue of estate workers waiting for their pay or harvest bonus, distributed by an agent. This is probably an adaptation of Wilkie’s Rent Day, although there tenants are shown paying their dues. To left of centre, alongside a large beer-barrel, Turner painted a Scotsman with raised arms, clearly based on the father of the rustic family in The Blind Fiddler, and a Scottish boy, surely as a reminder that Wilkie had included himself as a child in that picture. Also, in the painting Turner elucidated the sketchy group seated on the ground in the left foreground of the drawing as the proprietor and his friends or family, attended by a black servant and liberally supplied with superior food and drink. The black man is not identifiable in this drawing but can be found in various studies in the sketchbook (especially folio 4 verso, D05355). Alone among the figures for this subject, he is clearly observed from life, and it cannot be a coincidence that Wilkie included a black man (probably studied from an American Negro called Wilson) in The Village Holiday.
As suggested by Sam Smiles, the black man in Turner’s painting might be George Edward Doney, a long-standing servant of the Essex family who died in summer 1809 and who could have been included at his employer’s request.11 Moreover, the obvious expectation would be that the host of the harvest feast would be Lord Essex for whom Turner had intended his picture. However, the picture clearly shows two gentlemen, one behind the other in the left foreground. The accumulation of Wilkie references in the composition might suggest that Turner intended to represent the patrons who had sponsored his rise to fame and for whose attention both artists were competing. In this interpretation, the little tableau near the centre of the picture of the Scotsman being handed a drink from the beer-barrel laid on for the entertainment could show their largesse in action. Essex’s interest in The Village Holiday as well as Turner’s harvest pictures has been noted. But if Turner had lost or abandoned an Essex commission, could he have painted in another potential patron, more prominently? One candidate would be John Fuller, a patron of Turner from at least April 1810 who also, on 19 April that year, visited Wilkie (see notes to the Harvest Home sketchbook, especially folio 2, D05352). The host in Turner’s picture actually bears a strong resemblance to Fuller as seen in Henry Singleton’s portrait of 1806 (Royal Institution, London)12 and the profusion of bottles may be an in-joke about Fuller’s bibulous habits and lavish cellar, favourite clarets from which were buried with him after his death in 1834.
Turner’s sense of rivalry with Wilkie was sharpened by the fact that admirers of the younger artist included his own most prominent critic, Sir George Beaumont, a powerful arbiter of taste who shared his support of Wilkie with his friend the Earl of Mulgrave.13 Tensions between artists and collectors in London, rather than rustic reportage, seem to have overtaken Turner’s picture, carrying it beyond both its original Cassiobury context and the mild comedy of drink indicated in Turner’s notes on this drawing.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.128 no.209 (pl.208).
Ibid., p.128 no.209a (pl.209).
Kathryn Cave ed., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.VIII, New Haven and London 1982, p.3141.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.50 no.63 (pl.71).
Quoted ibid., p.128, under no.209.
Ibid., pp.52–3 no.68 (pl.78).
Quoted ibid., p.68, under no.92.
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians: A New Edition, Revised with 8 Coloured Illustrations after Turner’s Originals and 2 Woodcuts, London 1897, p.425; Marks 1981, pp.333–62.
Gage 1987, pp.144–5, 251 note 78.
Allan Cunningham, The Life of Sir David Wilkie, London 1843, vol.I, pp.226, 276.
Sam Smiles, ‘Turner and the Slave Trade: Speculation and Representation, 1805–40,’ The British Art Journal, vol.8, no.3, Winter 2007/8, pp.51–2, 54 notes 42–4.
Reproduced by Eric Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London 1981, p.5.
On Beaumont, Wilkie and Turner see Felicity Owen and David Blayney Brown, Collector of Genius; A Life of Sir George Beaumont, New Haven and London 1988, pp.152–76; and Nicholas Tromans, David Wilkie: Painter of Everyday Life, exhibition catalogue, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2002, pp.12–13, 18–19.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower1 has identified the paper as a white laid Large Post Quarto writing paper made on a single-faced mould by William Allee at Hurstbourne Priors Mill, Hampshire. Allee worked the mill from 1800 to 1816. This sheet is one quarter of a sheet of Large Post paper. Cassiobury Park; Reaping already mentioned (D08217) and a related Harvest Scene; Wagon and Reapers (Tate D08220; Turner Bequest CXX G) are two further portions of the same sheet, and Turner also used this paper for a letter to the Oxford art dealer James Wyatt on 28 February 1810.2

David Blayney Brown
December 2009

Notes in Tate catalogue files.
John Gage ed., Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 1980, p.40.

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Study for ‘Harvest Home’ c.1807–1812 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 2009, 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-study-for-harvest-home-r1133608, accessed 26 May 2024.