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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Junction of the Severn and the Wye c.1806

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Junction of the Severn and the Wye circa 1806
Turner Bequest CXVII E
Watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 182 x 260 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching, aquatint and mezzotint by Turner, untitled, published Turner, [?1] June 1811
Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire, in the middle distance, dates from the late eleventh century. Turner’s viewpoint for his Liber Studiorum design is from Piercefield Park (the grounds of a house remodelled by John Soane in the 1780s) on the Welsh side, looking south along the Wye – with Gloucestershire to the left – to where it enters the Severn Estuary about three miles away at the point now traversed by the Severn Road Bridge, and on towards South Gloucestershire on the horizon. As Gillian Forrester notes,1 this very prospect had been described in detail by the printmaker and theorist of Picturesque landscape, the Rev. William Gilpin (1724–1804) in his popular Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales ... (London 1782), although he actually declared it to be romantic but unpicturesque, so that Turner’s ‘inclusion of this plate ... could be interpreted as an anti-Picturesque gesture’2 at a time when his own pictorial theories were evolving.
On his 1798 tour of Wales, Turner had made a sketch of the distant part of this view, worked up in colour in the Hereford Court sketchbook (Tate D01335; Turner Bequest XXXVIII 81), but with the foreground left undeveloped and Chepstow itself much less prominent. A second Liber composition of Chepstow, River Wye (see Tate D08152; Turner Bequest CXVII X), shows the castle from a similar angle but from much closer, though Turner apparently derived the simplified silhouette in the present design from the same sketch used for the more detailed view – in the Dynevor Castle sketchbook, also of 1798 (Tate D01624, D01626; Turner Bequest XL 93–94). Either of the Chepstow designs may be the one mentioned in a letter from Turner to F.C. Lewis, at the time Lewis was involved briefly with the Liber, engraving his one plate, Bridge and Goats, in reverse (see under Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R). Turner wrote of a further drawing he had sent: ‘The new one is a view of Chepstow therefore must not be Reversed but made like the drawing.’3
In 1790, Edward Dayes had depicted a similar view in watercolour, though with Chepstow reduced to an inconspicuous line of rooftops in the trees, and unexotic cattle and horses grazing in the foreground;4 Turner may have known F. Jukes’s sepia aquatint of the composition, similar in scale to the Liber Studiorum prints, published in 1802 as ... Distant View of Chepstow, with the Confluence of the Rivers Wye and Severn, one of a series of Views on the River Wye after Dayes.5
The published plate was untitled; the present title is the customary one established in print by Rawlinson in 1878.6 The composition is recorded, as ‘5[:] 2 E.P. Chepstow’, 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)7 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.8 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘My Chepstow’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).9
The Liber Studiorum etching, aquatint and mezzotint engraving, by Turner alone (the first published Liber plate entirely by himself), bears the publication date June 1811 and was issued to subscribers in part 6 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.27–31;10 see also Tate N02941 and D08133, D08134, D08135; Turner Bequest CXVII F, G, H). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00966) and the published engraving (A00967). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction, and drawings Tate D08103, D08112, D08117, D08122, D08128, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; Turner Bequest CXVI B, K, P, U, CXVII A, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest E, I, N).
Towards the end of his career, Turner used this composition as the basis of one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see general Liber introduction for details); the painting, Landscape with a River and a Bay in the Distance (Paysage avec une rivière et une baie dans le lointain), is the only Turner oil in a French collection (Musée du Louvre, Paris).11
Thomas Lupton is said to have left unfinished an etched and possibly engraved facsimile of the print as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi between 1858 and 186512 (see general Liber introduction).
Forrester 1996, p.78.
Ibid., p.79.
Rawlinson 1878, p.183, letter no.2; John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.33, letter no.19, as ?early 1807; see also Forrester 1996, pp.50, 51 note 5 (favouring the present work).
Christopher White, English Landscape 1630–1850: Drawings, Prints & Books from the Paul Mellon Collection, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1977, p.54 no.89, pl.XCVI.
Ibid., p.54 no.90, pl.XCVII.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.62–3 no.28.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.59–68; 1906, pp.69–79; Finberg 1924, pp.105–24.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.299–300 no.509, pl.511 (colour).
Rawlinson 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.112.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘1794 | J Whatman’;1 it appears greyer than some other Liber watercolours since the support has not yellowed from light exposure. Any pencil drawing is very sketchy, if present at all. Watercolour and a fine brush were used for the ‘pen and ink’-like outlines. More water was added to the paper for the lighter, washier areas. The overall cool brown colour results from the umber pigment.2 The lower left foreground includes a few strokes of wash which were developed into a seated figure in the subsequent print. The techniques and materials are similar to those used for two other early Liber drawings: The Castle above the Meadows (Tate D08112; Turner Bequest CXVI K) and Bridge and Goats (Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R).3
Forrester 1996, p.78 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Ibid.; Forrester 1996, p.11.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘15’ [circled] centre, and ‘495 | Wye Chepstow | E’ centre right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – E’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Junction of the Severn and the Wye c.1806 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-the-junction-of-the-severn-and-the-wye-r1131735, accessed 20 July 2024.