Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 17751851)
Watercolor and gouache over graphite; 8 3/8 x 11 in. (21.3 x 28 cm)
Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958 (59.23.23)
Topographythe precise delineation of a given placecomprises both the method and the subject of this watercolor. On the one hand, Turner presents a specific view: from Greenwich Hill, across the Thames toward central London. On the other, he shows a group of figures engaged in studying the landscape and the documents that record its form. Their viewing devicesone man watches steamboats through a telescope, and another removes his spectacles in astonishmentemphasize the act of visual scrutiny. The foreground objectsmaps marked "London 1526 Reign of Elizabeth Regina" and "London 1825 Reign George IV," rolls of paper labeled "St. Paul's Cathedral Sir C Wren" and "Plan of London," a folio titled "Designs of London," and globes marked "N. Pole" and "New World"situate the location in time and space. Eric Shanes has proposed that Turner painted this watercolor (once owned by John Ruskin) in preparation for a projected, but ultimately unrealized, print series representing London views.