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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The High Street, Oxford c.1837-9

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The High Street, Oxford c.1837–9
Turner Bequest CCLXIII 362
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 382 x 558 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1837’
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXIII – 362’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of five loose colour studies (the others being Tate D25125, D25126, D25127, D25228; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 3, 4, 5, 106) showing the view west up Oxford’s High Street, comparable with that seen in the oil painting High Street, Oxford, exhibited in 1810 (private collection, on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)1 and engraved in 1812 (no Tate impressions). A sixth shows the view in the opposite direction (Tate D36316; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26).
Andrew Wilton has suggested that the group of five was made between about 1830 and 1835, based on a pencil drawing in the 1830 Kenilworth sketchbook (Tate D21976; Turner Bequest CCXXXVIII 1a),2 made from the junction with Queen’s Lane, with The Queen’s College in the right foreground, University College further down the High Street on the left, the spire of St Mary’s Church beyond All Souls College on the right, and the spire of All Saints Church in the distance. There are separate sketches showing variations on the view, made in about 1798 (Tate D00666, D08219; Turner Bequest XXVII E, CXX F) and two later ones in the Oxford sketchbook, in use between about 1834 and 18383 (Tate D27903, D27908; Turner Bequest CCLXXXV 2a, 5a). Anne Lyles has noted that the Kenilworth sketch only corresponds closely with D25126 and D25228 (CCLXIII 4, 106).4
Wilton’s suggestion that the five colour studies were ‘almost certainly preliminary exercises’ towards a design for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales has been followed by later commentators;5 his assertion that ‘the whole group was evidently done at one sitting’6 seems feasible. However, his dating of all five to the early 1830s is rendered impossible by the 1837 watermark of the present sheet, as is John Gage’s ‘c.1832/5’,7 relating them to the watercolour Christ Church College, Oxford of about 1832 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),8 engraved in that year for England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05094, T06108).
Lyles has suggested that the five studies actually represent two campaigns, with D25125 (CCLXIII 3, watermarked 1816) and D25127 (CCLXIII 5) having been made as early as ‘?c.1820–5’, and the others (including this one, watermarked 1837) around ‘1837–9’.9 The first two, with their ‘colder colour ranges of blues, yellows and greys’,10 might have been for England and Wales, but as the project concluded prematurely in 1838 she argues that Turner would be have been unlikely to embark on further studies after 1837. Instead she proposes that the three further studies, with their common ‘pinks, purples and blues’, might have been intended for a central Oxford counterpoint to the watercolour (Manchester Art Gallery)11 commissioned by the Oxford printseller James Ryman and engraved in 1841 as Oxford from North Hinksey.12 Tate D25220 (Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98) is a colour study related to the latter.
Eric Shanes has acknowledged the possibility of two phases of High Street views, without making any link from the second to Oxford from North Hinksey13 (see the introduction to this Oxford subsection for connections between a colour study for the latter and other views in the city). He has suggested that the existence of five variants suggests that Turner ‘encountered some fundamental problem with the design’.14 Colin Harrison has noted that the extensive studies show that ‘Turner attached a great deal of importance to this new view’, assuming that the five all date to the later 1830s, along with other Oxford colour studies: ‘They cannot be placed in any logical order, and, while some compositions correspond more closely with the sketches in the “Oxford” sketchbook, this is almost accidental.’15 Shanes has also suggested that either this or D25127 (CCLXIII 5) might have been intended as a paired composition with D36316 (Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26), the view east along the High Street, as all are on sheets of a similar size.16
Wilton observes that the ‘introduction of figures into two of the studies [here and in D25126 (CCLXIII 4)] shows that these variations on a single subject are not experiments in a vacuum’, and indeed the present work is ‘considerably more elaborate than the others in its treatment of atmosphere and in the detail of the figures’.17 Chumbley and Warrell note: ‘The crowds on the left, the stage coach approaching in the middle distance and the group of women and children in the foreground are all strongly suggestive of the range of human activity appropriate to the subject.’18 Shanes suggests there are building works on the left, as often seen in Turner’s Oxford views.19 The groupings, unusually elaborate in the context of a ‘colour beginning’ are loosely comparable with those in the watercolour street scene with a stagecoach Stamford, Lincolnshire of about 1828 (Usher Gallery, Lincoln),20 engraved in 1830 for England and Wales (Tate impressions: T04557, T06088), while the elaborate (to modern eyes almost fancy-dress) costumes of the children are similar to those in the painting The New Moon; or, ‘I’ve lost My Boat, You shan’t have Your Hoop’, exhibited in 1840 (Tate N00526).21
A range of about 1837–9 has been assigned here, following Lyles. See also the introductions to the present subsection of identified but unrealised Oxford subjects and the overall England and Wales ‘colour beginnings’ grouping to which this work has been assigned.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.73–4 no.102, Pl.109 (colour).
Wilton in Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.125; followed in Shanes 1979, p.152, Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.37, and Shanes 1990, pp.260, 286 note 205.
See Harrison 2000, p.88.
Lyles 1992, p.56.
Wilton 1974, p.125; see also p.26, Wilton 1979, pp.187, 191 note 31, Youngblood 1984, p.18, and Shanes 1997, pp.19, 26, 86, 96, 100, 106.
Wilton 1974, p.26.
Gage 1987, p.[86].
Wilton 1979, p.400 no.853.
Lyles 1992, pp.57–8.
Ibid., p.58.
Wilton 1979, p.404 no.889, reproduced.
Lyles 1992, p.58.
Shanes 1997, pp.26, 86.
Shanes 1990, p.260.
Harrison 2000, p.91.
Shanes 1990, p.90.
Wilton 1974, p.125.
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.37.
Shanes 1979, p.152; Shanes 1990, p.260.
Wilton 1979, p.395 no.817, pl.189.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.238 no.386, pl.389 (colour).
Blank; the sheet is much darkened towards the left. Prominent vertical marks at 75 mm (3 inch) intervals are presumably relics of the sheet’s manufacture.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The High Street, Oxford c.1837–9 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, December 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-high-street-oxford-r1144336, accessed 24 May 2024.