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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Oxford Subjects, Possibly for ‘England and Wales’ c.1825–39

Turner Bequest CCLXIII 3, 4, 5, 95, 96, 98, 106, 362, CCCLXV 24, 26
This subsection comprises ‘colour beginnings’ of Oxford subjects which could potentially have led to finished watercolours to be engraved for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales, published between 1827 and 1838. Much has been written concerning Turner’s Oxford subject matter in general, which occupied him sporadically from the late 1780s to the end of the 1830s. The most extensive accounts are Patrick Youngblood’s1 and Colin Harrison’s,2 while Andrew Kennedy has provided a concise summary.3
One of Turner’s many finished Oxford watercolours, Christ Church College, Oxford of about 1832 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford),4 was engraved in that year for Turner’s Picturesque Views in England and Wales (Tate impressions: T05094, T06108). Another, Merton College, Oxford, dates from around 1835–8, the final years of the project (Tate D25472; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 349);5 it was not engraved but is generally agreed to be an England and Wales design.
The ten colour studies in the present subsection, while showing various aspects of Oxford, are characterised by broad, open foregrounds flanked by trees or receding buildings, almost like stage sets, and a few include figures or indications of immediate human presences. They also share combinations of golden brown-yellow colouring in their architecture and landscapes and bright, albeit often cloudy, skies. None of them were developed as finished compositions for England and Wales, though they share the scale and technique of many ‘colour beginnings’ which can be related to that project.
Five of them (Tate D25125, D25126, D25127, D25228, D25485; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 3, 4, 5, 106, 362) show the view west up the High Street, comparable with that seen in the oil painting High Street, Oxford, commissioned by an Oxford patron, exhibited in 1810 (private collection, on loan to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)6 and engraved in 1812 (no Tate impressions).
A sixth shows a view along the same stretch of street in the opposite direction (Tate D36316; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 26). Three others show the grounds of Trinity College (Tate D25217; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 95), St John’s and Trinity (Tate D25218; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 96) and New College (Tate D36314; Turner Bequest CCCLXV 24). The tenth is a distant view of the city from the west (Tate D25220; Turner Bequest CCLXIII 98), apparently a variation on a non-England and Wales design, the watercolour commissioned by the Oxford printseller James Ryman (Manchester Art Gallery),7 engraved in 1841 as Oxford from North Hinksey.
Eric Shanes suggests that these five colour studies ‘may have been made during the same session of work’8 (see their individual technical notes); but since Ryman only commissioned one view, D25220 and the other four may not be ‘sample studies’ directly connected with the completed North Hinksey vista, but possibly (depending on their dating before or after 1838) as ideas for late additions to England and Wales or ‘for a separate series of Oxford views that never saw the light of day’.9
Patrick Youngblood, ‘The Stones of Oxford: Turner’s Depiction of Oxonian Architecture 1787–1804 and After’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.2, Winter 1984, pp.3–21.
Colin Harrison, Turner’s Oxford, exhibition catalogue, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 2000.
Andrew Kennedy, ‘Oxford’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.208–9.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.400 no.853.
Ibid., p.404 no.887, pl.201.
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 1979, p.404 no.889, reproduced, as c.1835–40.
Shanes 1997, p.86.

Matthew Imms
March 2013

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Oxford Subjects, Possibly for ‘England and Wales’ c.1825–39’, subset, 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/oxford-subjects-possibly-for-england-and-wales-r1144331, accessed 23 May 2024.