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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Loose Studies of Paris and the Seine c.1832–34

Turner Bequest CCXXI B, CCXXI V, CCXXII F, CCLIX 1–4, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 29, 30, 37–39, 46, 52, 73, 76–78, 80–90, 149, 155, 156, 162, 164, 169, 172–174, 178, 179, 181, 182, 184, 187, 195, 196, 208, 209, 216, 218, 222, 242, 246, 251, 253–255, 257, CCLXI 33, 35, 37, 93, 121–123, CCXCII 65
The gouache and watercolour ‘colour studies’ catalogued in the present section describe scenery along the banks of the River Seine as it flows through Paris, past the picturesque Normandy countryside, and out into the English Channel. These pieces are the product of several years’ work, commencing late in 1832 when Turner began to resolve his ideas for the two Seine volumes of Turner’s Annual Tour: Wanderings by the Loire and Seine (1833–5; later reissued as Rivers of France).1 With the exception of Tate D29016 (Turner Bequest CCXCII 65), all of these studies are composed on the small sheets of blue paper (approximately 140 x 190 mm) with which the artist had first started to experiment in the later 1820s.2
Despite the vivid colouristic and painterly effects often encountered in these works, their status in the studio appears to have been that of useful but ultimately provisional working documents. Over a decade’s worth of sketchbook material were mined for the creation of these ‘colour studies’. Depending on their success and suitability, they were then selected or rejected as the basis for a separate set of ‘finished’ watercolour compositions which were in turn destined for use by the publisher’s team of engravers.3 In the event, the artist whittled his selection down from the seventy-four initial colour studies catalogued here, to a total of forty ‘finished’ designs for reproduction. Art historian Ian Warrell has described this process as a ‘sifting of potentials’, with the unsuccessful ‘colour studies’ characterised as ‘interrupted alternatives, abandoned as Turner’s engagement with a chosen composition became more focused’.4 As an additional sub-stage in this developmental process, we might speculatively add the handful of blue paper pencil sketches of Normandy motifs (also included here), which may have been rejected before any application of colour; see, for example, Tate D25009 (Turner Bequest CCLXI 37). Turner’s primary references for these blue paper studies, coloured and otherwise, were the Paris, Seine and Dieppe and Tancarville and Lillebonne sketchbooks of 1821 (Turner Bequest CCXI, CCLIII), the Seine and Paris and Paris and Environs sketchbooks of 1832 (Turner Bequest CCLIV, CCLVII), and the Guernsey sketchbook of about the same date (Turner Bequest CCLII). Specific links between the sketchbook drawings and the more developed ‘studies’ are suggested under the relevant individual entries.
In the exhibition catalogue Turner on the Seine, Warrell discerned sub-groupings within the Seine ‘colour studies’ on stylistic grounds, and ventured that the compositions were accomplished in batches across a sequence of distinct painting sessions.5 These are grouped as follows:
Architectural subjects, predominantly painted in brown, pink, yellow-orange and blue, with the addition of brown ink: Tate D24647, D24650, D24652, D24653, D24727, D24746, D24749, D24787, D24816, D24819, D24822 (Turner Bequest CCLIX 82, 85, 87, 88, 162, 181, 222, 251, 254, 257).
Lillebonne, Normandy, predominantly painted in apple greens and earthy red: Tate D24675, D24807 (Turner Bequest CCLIX 110, 242).
Saint-Cloud, Île de France, predominantly painted in mottled green, lilac, and sandy apricot: Tate D24569, D24617, D24689 (Turner Bequest CCLIX 4, 52, 124).
The Seine between Jumièges and Rouen, comprising unusual acidic green passages: Tate D24642, D24643 (Turner Bequest CCLIX 77, 78).
As Turner continued to try out his ideas for the Annual Tour, he was also engaged to provide illustrations for a new edition of Walter Scott’s Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (1834–36).6 Several of the Parisian scenes depicted in the ‘colour studies’ included this section were pertinent to both projects, and it is possible that Turner was considering the suitability of certain subjects for each series simultaneously. The landscape around Saint-Cloud, for example, is depicted in several of the sketches (Tate D24569, D24617, D24689; Turner Bequest CCLIX 4, 52, 124) and did indeed feature in both the Annual Tour and the Life of Napoleon volumes.
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., London 1908, vol.II, pp.264–76 nos.453–92.
Ian Warrell, Turner on the Seine, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, pp.66, 67.
Ibid., pp.67–9.
Ibid., p.69.
Ibid., p.68.
Rawlinson, London 1908, vol.II, pp.288–92 nos.525–39.

John Chu
August 2014

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How to cite

John Chu, ‘Loose Studies of Paris and the Seine c.1832–34’, subset, August 2014, 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/loose-studies-of-paris-and-the-seine-r1173058, accessed 28 October 2021.