<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

IIIF Actions
William Taverner, 1703–1772

Landscape with Buildings: Possibly at Richmond, Surrey

Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor and gouache on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 9 1/2 × 28 1/8 inches (24.1 × 71.4 cm), Mount: 12 × 30 3/8 inches (30.5 × 77.2 cm)

Inscribed on verso in graphite, center: "Milton | Beakley N[...] | 30 1/8 x 11 1/2 | CL120"; in blue pencil lower leftt: "126"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.

A lawyer by profession, William Taverner was also an accomplished amateur artist, whose drawings were much sought after even by professional artists such as Paul Sandby. One contemporary noted Taverner's "wonderfull genius to drawing of Landskap," describing his views as being "in an excellent manner…adorn'd with figures in a stile above the common." In this watercolor, perhaps an idealized view of the countryside at Richmond near London, Taverner's buildings and figures are borrowed from celebrated continental landscapists such as Claude Lorraine and Marco Ricci.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
William Taverner was one of the earliest and most accomplished of a new breed of artist that emerged in the eighteenth century: the amateur. Nonprofessional artists had existed before, but the eighteenth century saw the rise of drawing and painting as popular pastimes for a growing number of gentlemen and ladies. Few amateurs turned their hand to oil painting. Their preference was for watercolor, and their work in, and enthusiasm for, the medium had a lasting influence on its development.
Taverner was a practicing lawyer based in London, but his grandfather had been a portrait painter, and William was clearly known and respected by professional artists in the capital from as early as 1733. In that year the engraver and antiquarian George Vertue noted his "wonderfull genius to drawing of Landskap" and described his views as being "in an excellent manner. .. adorn'd with fig ures in a stile above the common." When Taverner died, he was hailed as "one of the best landscape painters England ever produced, but as he painted only by way of amusement, his paintings are very rare, and will bear a high price."
Unlike some eighteenth-century amateurs, Taverner never exhibited his work in public, which suggests that Landscape with Buildings: Possibly at Richmond, Surrey was made for circulation among friends and fellow amateurs only. Despite his unwillingness to exhibit such landscapes, this watercolor reveals a sophisticated technique for its date and amply justifies Vertue's praise of his ability. On the one hand, Taverner was looking to the émigré Dutch and Flemish artists who imported watercolors into England in the seventeenth century. They had tended to outline their main forms with pencil and pen before applying broad washes of gray on top to give the landscape its basic tonal contrast. Finally, they "stained" the outlines with patches of local color to complete the view. Since these color washes merely supplemented the drawn line, watercolors became known as "stained drawings." On the other hand, however, Taverner was moving away from this tra. ditional technique so that, although he has used fine pencil lines to locate specific forms, such as the trees to the left, he has avoided pen outline and gray underdrawing in favor of painting directly with color washes. By building up objects through layers of wash, Taverner's landscape anticipates the advances in British watercolor painting that are usually thought of as occurring at the end of the century.
Like the medium of watercolor itself, Taverner's use of a wide horizontal format (achieved here by conjoining two sheets) was also of later seventeenth. century origin, when it was used for depicting topographical views of notable sites. The possible location of this view has been identified as Richmond, then a mere village on the fringes of London. The identifica-tion, however, is not entirely convincing, not least because Taverner's buildings seem more like those found, for example, in Marco Ricci's (1676-1729) idealized Italianate landscapes. If Taverner's scene is based on the countryside around Richmond, he has introduced elements beyond mere topography. Not only are the buildings idealized, but his figures are also clad in timeless pastoral costume rather than in contemporary dress. The gesturing seated figure and the traveler leaning on his staff reveal Taverner's close study of artists such as Claude Lorrain (c. 1604-1682), whose ideal landscapes were filled with such figures and were highly prized by eighteenth-century connoisseurs; Claude was an artist well represented in Taverner's print collection. Nevertheless, the allusion to Claude sits somewhat incongruously within a rustic landscape that hovers between the topographical and the ideal. Thus this view is more likely to be an example of a capriccio, a scene that blends parts of a real place with purely imaginary elements. Taverner collected prints after the contemporary Italian capriccio painter Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765), and he produced a number of other capricci himself.
Although Taverner's works on paper are not dated, the ambiguities in this landscape suggest that he was working to reconcile an existing topographical tradition inherited in the seventeenth century with the growing fashion in the eighteenth century for more idealized landscapes. The transition between the two modes of landscape painting is not quite fully realized here. Nevertheless, Taverner's watercolor illustrates the growing taste for ideal landscapes, and also anticipates the enormous vogue for sketching landscapes that gripped amateur artists as the century progressed.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2007, pp. 10-11, no. 1

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 10-11, no. 1, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.