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Artists who Influenced Turner

Reynolds & Turner - "Crossing the Brook"

Dr Whittingham writes: This large painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815. It is generally considered one of Turner’s masterpieces, but was vigorously attacked by Sir George Beaumont.

The scene depicted is of the Tamar valley, Devon, and shows two girls, one who has crossed the brook and the other sitting on the opposite bank.  Eric Shanes (Turner’s Human Landscape) claimed that it was allegorical, the elder girl who has crossed having reached puberty and the younger one still a child.  I agree. The tradition that it represents Turner’s two daughters, Evelina and Georgiana, is also plausible.

The idea for the picture was probably prompted by a very different one by Sir Joshua Reynolds with the same title.  The late Evelyn Joll was very dismissive of my suggestion, saying it was prompted by one by Henry Thomson again with the same title, exhibited in 1803 and engraved in 1804 with a dedication to Sir John Leicester, in the  1808 of whose collection it appears and again in the 1821 one with some sentimental verses.  The Thomson was 6ft high, about the same size as Turner’s.  That by Reynolds was smaller and exhibited in a retrospective of his work at the British Institution in 1813.  The Thomson and Reynolds are alike in showing a small girl with her mother by a brook, the girl in the Reynolds being an identified portrait. 

Thomson                                                                               Reynolds


Though Turner was an important client of Leicester, I suggest that the Reynolds was the immediate prompt for the idea of his own very different painting.  If the idea was formed in 1813, it would have been painted in 1814, too late for that year’s RA exhibition.  At that time Evelina was either aged 14 or coming up for that age, one when children usually left home to become apprentices or to go into service. The legal age for marriage was also 14.   That is, she was grown up.  Georgiana was about 3.  Turner and their mother, Sarah Danby, split up about 1813.

Evelina was probably named after the novel of that name by Fanny Burney / d’Arblay (though there was also an opera of that title), and Georgiana after the Duchess of Devonshire or her mother, Countess Spencer, both closely connected with Turner’s Trimmer friends.

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