The present work was commissioned by Thomas Hardwick and is based on a pencil drawing that survives in the Turner Bequest in his so-called Oxford Sketchbook'.2 Turner depicts All Saints Church in the village of Isleworth, an ancient place which lies on the River Thames in present day west London. The church dates from the 14th century but was largely destroyed by a fire in 1943. Turner shows the view from the river and has included a number of Thames barges, whose large sails and geometric rigging punctuate the complex composition. Eric Shanes described the watercolour as 'a small tour de force by a boy of fourteen', also noting that the work is Turner's earliest surviving nautical watercolour.2
Turner's watercolour: St Mary the Virgin at Wanstead (following lot) was also painted for Thomas Hardwick. Today, the village of Wanstead is part of north-east Greater London; however in the late 18th century it was very much a rural village. In 1787 Hardwick was commissioned to build a new church there, to replace the medieval one shown in Turner's watercolour. His new church was finished in 1790, whereupon the old one was dismantled.
Framing his oval composition with trees, Turner portrays the dilapidated structure surrounded by fields and woodland. In the foreground a man digs a grave while another, who is elegantly dressed in a long blue coat and tall black hat, leans on a cane, observing. Although no preparatory drawing survives for this composition, the Oxford Sketchbook contains a pencil drawing by Turner of Hardwick's 'New Church' at Wanstead. The whereabouts of the finished watercolour of that composition is currently unknown.
Both these remarkable watercolours remained in the collection of Thomas Hardwick and his descendants until they were sold at Christie’s in 1920. They have not appeared in public since.
1. E. Shanes, op. cit, New Haven and London 2016, p. 19
2. Oxford Sketchbook, 1789, Turner Bequest II 4
3. E. Shanes, op. cit, New Haven and London 2016, p. 28
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