October Treasure of the Month


October Treasure of the Month

Four Watercolours by JMW Turner

The Treasure of the Month series offers the opportunity to highlight less well-known works from the collection as well as to look with fresh eyes on beloved masterpieces. This month we focus on four watercolour landscapes by JMW Turner in which he depicts different settings in Yorkshire.

The works in question were commissioned by Sir William Pilkington, 8th Bt., of Chevet Hall near Wakefield. Pilkington was the brother-in-law of Turner’s closest friend and supporter, Walter Fawkes, at whose home (Farnley Hall) Turner spent extended holidays and where he probably painted the four watercolours.

The watercolours are based on on-the-spot drawings found in his sketchbooks, now part of the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain. Two of them are hunting scenes in which Pilkington, Fawkes and Turner are depicted in person. The other two show famous ‘picturesque’ sites.

The works were painted at dates between 1809 and 1816. Turner was in his mid-thirties at the start of this period and enjoying great success as a landscape painter. He was already a Royal Academician with his own commercial gallery at 64 Harley Street, not far from the Wallace Collection. He was also becoming increasingly experimental in his watercolour technique.

Woodcock Shooting on Otley Chevin and Grouse Shooting on Beamsley Beacon are autumnal game-shooting scenes. Turner depicts with great precision the rough texture of rock and vegetation (ferns, bracken, heather) in the foreground, contrasted with the smooth atmospheric washes of the horizon and sky.

Scarborough Castle: Boys Crab Fishing offers a view of the bay from the shoreline. Two boys on the beach look for shellfish. Scarborough Bay offered one of Turner’s favourite Yorkshire views, which he returned to on numerous occasions, always including the motif of the starfish in the foreground.

As much as a record of a place the work is above all an exploration of the quality of light in early morning. The headland, surmounted by the medieval castle, appears to have been enlarged considerably for poetic effect and seems almost to dissolve into the haze.

In Hackfall, near Ripon Turner depicts the picturesque prospect of the Ure valley, looking south. Included in the view are two ‘eye-catchers’ or follies, including an artificial ruin, Mombray Castle, on the distant hill. An enigmatic woman in white walks along the path, enhancing the work’s evocative effect.

The watercolours have been kept together as a small series since Turner painted them. The 4th Marquess of Hertford purchased them in 1863 for 1,970 guineas at the sale of Elhanan Bicknell’s remarkable collection of English paintings. He acquired few watercolours, and of those that he did, these four paintings are among the very best.

Watercolours are particularly vulnerable to protracted exposure to light. For this reason, they are kept away from light for much of the year. Please join Curator Lucy Davis for the rare opportunity to admire the four watercolours at close hand.

- Lucy Davis, Curator of Flemish and British Paintings, Miniatures and Works on Paper


Tuesday 8 October and Tuesday 22 October 2019 at 1 pm with Lucy Davis, Curator of Flemish and British Paintings, Miniatures and Works on Paper.