- Museum number
Heysham and Cumberland Mountains; view with figures to right threshing and gathering hay, with cattle in centre, nearby village and woods below to left, with wooded hills beyond, ruins in distant centre and expanse of water with mountains in far distance to right. 1818
Watercolour with scratching out
- Production date
Height: 290 millimetres
Width: 424 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- One of twenty watercolours made to be engraved as illustrations to 'The History of Richmondshire' by Rev. Thomas Dunham Whitaker (1759-1821). The two volumes, published in parts between 1819 and 1823, were intended as the first instalment of a massive seven-volume 'General History of the county of York', but Whitaker died before completing any more than the Richmondshire section. Turner was commissioned by the publisher, Longman, in 1816 to produce 120 watercolours for the entire project, at a fee of 25 guineas each, a reduction from his orginal demand of 40 guineas, but still expected to earn him 3,000 guineas. Turner was by far the most eminent landscape painter in Britain, and this substantial investment by the publisher was expected to make the volumes attractive to a wide clientele.
The choice of subjects for the illustrations was not left to the artist himself, but was determined by a committee of local antiquarians, who themselves made a preparatory tour of the region. They were Dr Raine of Durham, Canon Tate, master at Richmond Grammar School, Dr William Turner and William Whitaker.
Turner's first tour of Yorkshire was in 1797 and he returned to the county two years later, during a visit to Thomas Whitaker at Holme, near Burnley in Lancashire. Whitaker came from a long line of churchmen and scholars, but was destined for a legal career until the death of his father in 1782 brought him back to Lancashire to manage the family estates. He took holy orders in 1785 and in 1797 assumed the perpetual curacy of the parish of Holme, under his own patronage. Turner produced drawings of various mediaeval remains for Whitaker's first book, 'The History of Whalley' (1800-1801), and some of his earlier watercolours were used in the illustration of 'Loidis and Elmete' (a history of Leeds) in 1816. For the enormous project of the 'History of the county of York', Turner expected to be able to draw, in part, on sketches made during his many subsequent visits to the county as guest of Walter Fawkes, of Farnley Hall, near Leeds. Nonetheless, much new work was also required, and on 12 July 1816 Turner set off from London for a lengthy tour to gather the material he needed. He went first to Farnley Hall, then after a couple of days' rest, on set out 17 July with various members of the family on the first part of an extensive journey which was to last until 11 August. During these three-and-a-half weeks he covered about 550 miles, by carriage, on horseback and often on foot, and filled three sketchbooks with hundreds of drawings.
Heysham is a small village on the coast of Lancashire, at the southern end of Morecambe Bay. Despite being far from Yorkshire, his ostensible subject, Whitaker was taking the braodest possible view of his theme, and included in his history areas of northern England which had once been under the dominion of York; this also allowed him to write about parts of Lancashire, the county in which he himself lived and enjoyed the influence of a landowner and a vicar. Whitaker held the title of Rector of Heysham from 1813-19. Turner reached Heysham on 8 August, having made the crossing of the notoriously treacherous Lancaster Sands the previous day. In the drawing for this watercolour, spanning a double-page spread of the smaller of the two landscape-format sketchbooks he took on the tour, he looked north towards the mountains of the Lake District, and wrote in the names of the peaks and other features he had passed, 'Black Combe' at the left, then 'Old Man' (of Coniston), 'Holker' (Hall), 'Floo' (for Flookburgh) and 'Castle H[ead]' (TB CXLVII 40v-41, 'Yorkshire 4'; repr. D. Hill, pp. 86-87; there are also sketches of Heysham in the 'Yorkshire 2' sketchbook, TB CXLV, 78v-79).
Though entitled 'Heysham and Cumberland mountains' in the published print, it has been pointed out that most of the peaks visible are in fact in Lancashire; the fact remains that the sight of the great mountains of the Lake District, seen at such a distance across the flat expanse of the bay, makes a uniquely impressive spectacle. Women are harvesting in the field in the foreground, a detail Turner must have supplied from memory; the only hint of this activity in the sketch is a scribbled note of a cart in the lower left, which Turner retained in the watercolour, moving it down the lane nearer to the village.
This watercolour is one of seven of the twenty 'Richmondshire' watercolours to be owned by Ruskin, and he took advantage of his familiarity with the work to write about it in extraordinary detail both in 'Modern Painters' and in 'The elements of drawing', where he concludes: "the entire purpose of the painter [is] to give us the impression of wild, yet gentle, country life, monotonous as the succession of the noiseless waves, patient and enduring a the rocks; but peaceful, and full of health and quiet hope, and sanctified by the pure mountain air and baptismal dew of heaven, falling softly between days of toil and nights of innocence" (The elements of drawing, 1857, p. 330). Among the details picked out by Ruskin in his highly empathetic description is the cowherd with a bonnet and ragged trousers (he cannot decide if this is a boy or girl), standing barefooted on a piece of rock 'for the ground in thistly and not pleasurable to bare feet' (ibid., p. 328).
Engraved by W.R.Smith, 1822 (Rawlinson 187).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1878 Fine Art Society, London, Drawings by J.M.W.Turner, no.25
1886 Royal Academy, 'Winter Exhibiiton of Old Masters', no.11
1902 Agnew's, London, no.233
1910 Agnew's, London, Collection of the late Mr George Salting, no.214
1980, June-July, York City Art Gallery, Turner in Yorkshire, no.132
1984 Jul-Dec, London, Tate Gallery, 'Turner's Richmondshire Tour'
2006 Jan-May, Bowes Museum, Turner ..Durham and Richmondshire
2006, Sept-Nov, Sunderland, 'Towards the narrow road to deep North'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: History of Richmondshire
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number