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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Straw Yard circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Straw Yard circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI J
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 183 x 260 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching, mezzotint and drypoint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, untitled, published Charles Turner, 20 February 1808
The present work is one of two early designs for the Liber Studiorum showing farm-yards; the other is known as The Farm-Yard with the Cock (for drawing see Tate D08121; Turner Bequest CXVI T). Ruskin considered the composition ‘of a kind peculiarly simple’1 and regretted the evidence of ‘decay and humiliation’, with the ‘ploughshare, and harrow rotting away’2 by the pond. Finberg felt the design was ‘a cross between’ Thomas Gainsborough and David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690) with the landscape influenced by the former but with the figures and implements ‘in the spirit of Dutch realism’ – a failed attempt to combine ‘two incompatible points of view in arbitrary juxtaposition.’3
Stopford Brooke preferred it to some of Turner’s more idealised Liber designs: ‘At least, this is English, and Turner loved his land, though often his love was sorrow.’4 He praised the figures of the farm workers, ‘clenched to the soil’ as expressions of ‘stern reality.’5 Rawlinson had criticised Turner’s unsympathetic depiction of the scene in general, and particularly the animals by comparison with the ‘attractiveness’ expressed by specialists in the rustic genre such as George Morland;6 Gillian Forrester has explored in detail the prominence of the precocious Morland’s ‘plentiful and inexpensive’ prints during Turner’s youth, and the possible influence of the Morland Gallery as one model for the Liber project.7 The Gallery had been organised in about 1793 by Morland’s engraver John Raphael Smith (who is said to have employed Turner in colouring prints)8 to promote a series of subscription engravings.9
A small oil sketch on paper of about 1808 (private collection)10 shows the same composition as the present drawing, but in reverse (as is the subsequent engraving), and with the fence, gate and trees beside the barn spread more widely; it is painted in a range of browns, similar to those of Turner’s Liber watercolour studies and published prints.11 As Butlin and Joll note, it ‘appears to be unique ... as the only known version in oil of a Liber subject which would seem to have been painted at roughly the same time as the engraving was made.’12 The discrepancies in the composition perhaps make it unlikely that it was intended as an intermediate guide for the engraver as it is even sketchier than the present wash drawing, though Forrester suggests it may have been made to explore further the balance of light and shade.13
The published plate was untitled; the present title is the customary one established by early scholars and collectors of the Liber, and codified in print in 1872.14 The composition is recorded, as ‘2[:] 1 White Horse’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)15 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.16 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘2 Farmyard’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘Pastoral’ subjects (Tate D12160; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 25a).17
The Liber Studiorum etching, drypoint and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, bears the publication date 20 February 1808 and was issued to subscribers in part 2 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.7–11;18 see also Tate D08112–D08115; Turner Bequest CXVI K, L, M, N). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00923) and the published engraving (A00924). It is one of fourteen published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘Pastoral’ category (see also Tate D08102, D08116, D08121, D08127, D08136, D08140, D08145, D08151, D08158, D08167; Turner Bequest CXVI A, O, T, Z, CXVII I, M, Q, W, CXVIII D, M; and Tate N02941).
There is a drawing of boats on the verso of the sheet (Tate D41481), partly obscured by an offset of the etching derived from the present composition.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.236.
Ibid., VII 1903, pp.432–3
Finberg 1910, p.57.
Brooke 1885, p.[24].
Ibid., p.25.
Rawlinson 1878, p.21.
Forrester 1996, pp.53–4.
Ibid., p.53; sources cited p.54 note 2.
Michael Rosenthal, ‘George Morland’, Grove Art Online, accessed 30 March 2006, http://www.groveart.com.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.127–8 no.208a, pl.207.
Christie’s, London, 30 June 1981 (75, reproduced in colour).
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.127.
Forrester 1996, p.54.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.20 no.7.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.20–9; 1906, pp.24–36; Finberg 1924, pp.25–44.
Technical Notes:
The sheet appears very contrasty and pale, as if it has run during washing. There is initial pencil drawing, then neatly-applied brushstrokes in watercolour for the figures and animals. The pale outline of trees has been washed over inaccurately with brown wash (apparently Turner’s work, rather than a restorer’s). Washing-out and light scratching have created the lights. The single umber pigment results in an overall cool brown tone.1

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Straw Yard c.1806–7 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-straw-yard-r1131712, accessed 21 June 2024.