This watercolor was previously identified in 1983 as probably being a view of the River Tamar looking upstream with Mount Edgecombe on the left and Plymouth in the distance on the right. The preliminary sketch for this watercolor occurs in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook (Tate Britain CXXXVII 54a; D10287). Matthew Imms has however, suggested that the view may be of the Tavy Valley near Mary Tavy. The general scene and in particular the hill on the right is similar to that of an etching of 1823 and an 1842 impression with aquatint, Near Mary Tavy. Property of Jn. Buller Esqr by F.C. Lewis (M. Imms 'The Tavy Valley near Mary Tavy? 1813, by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2011, in D. Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012). One of the preceding drawings in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook (D10285) is the basis for Turner’s watercolor Sunshine on the Tamar (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; fig. 1). Turner himself may have been rather confused about the viewpoints of these two adjacent rivers. Sunshine on the Tamar was previously owned by John Ruskin who initially called it Pigs in Sunshine. Scene on the Tavey [sic], Devonshire, before adopting the present title. That watercolor is similar in size, colouring and composition to the present work and may have been executed as a pair to this during the same painting session. Other pages in the Vale of Heathfield sketchbook show views of the Tamar Manure Canal, which ran beside the River Tamar (D10279, D10281).
Turner first visited Devon in 1811 during his clockwise journey round the whole of the South West of England. He made a longer return visit in 1813, which centered on the Plymouth area. Unusually there are detailed eye- witness accounts of many of Turner’s activities and movements during this later trip. Thornbury quotes Charles Eastlake’s reminiscences of the 1813 visit, W. Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, London, 1862, I, p. 219 'Turner visited Plymouth, my native town while I was staying there in the summer of 1813 ….Turner made various excursions, and the result of one of his rambles is a sketch of the scene which afterwards grew into the celebrated picture 'Crossing the Brook’…’ Another important oil painting which originated from this trip was Hulks on the Tamar (M. Butlin and E. Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, 2nd ed., New Haven and London, 1984, pp. 24-5, no. 119, and pp. 93-4, no. 130, pls. 126 and 123 respectively).
This watercolor and Sunshine on the Tamar, were probably executed for The Rivers of Devon, commissioned by W. B. Cooke in about 1813, but not engraved. The project collapsed after only four of the projected 24 watercolors had been engraved. Turner was to have been paid £7.10.0 for each composition but in the event only received five guineas for each engraved work. (For The Rivers of Devon see E. Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London, 1981, p. 8, and L. Herrmann, Turner’s Prints: The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, Oxford, 1990, pp. 90, 166.)
We are grateful to Ian Warrell for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.
The Tavy Valley, near Mary Tavy, Devon with pack horses in the foreground
Pencil and watercolor with scratching out
Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A
19th Century, Drawings & Watercolors, pencil, watercolor, England, Old Master, landscape, seascape, topographical
Old Master & British Drawings & Watercolours
8 ¾ x 13 3/8 in. (22.2 x 35 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 7 July 1983, lot 180, where acquired by the present owner.