This beautiful sepia plein air study of the River Washburn was made on Walter Fawkes estate at Farnley Hall at Elsingbotton Farm. This was originally part of a now dismembered sketchbook that Turner gave to his close friend Hugh Munro of Novar. A piece of paper pasted inside the front cover of the sketchbook recorded in Munro’s hand: When I traveled in 1836 with Turner through France, Switzerland and the Val d’Aosta I found this sketchbook amongst my things – I showed it to Turner, who after looking over it, again put it into my hands – I suppose it had been originally put up to enable him to make use of the unused paper in it.
A number of the pages from which the sketchbook is comprised is watermarked ‘J. Whatman 1822’ and Finberg (op. cit. 1935) convincingly argued, by identifying some of the subjects found amongst these drawings that the sketchbook must have been used on what was to be Turner’s final visit to his closest friend, Walter Fawkes, at Farnley Hall between 19th November and 14th December 1824. Turner was unable to bear returning to Farnley after Fawkes’s death in 1825. It was Finberg’s supposition that Turner’s housekeeper had included the partially used sketchbook in Turner’s luggage in 1836 as she noticed that it was only half-filled and that when he looked at it again on tour, overcome by poignant memories, he made the uncharacteristic gesture of giving it to Munro, Fawkes’s successor as Turner’s confidant.
This sheet of studies formed part of two of the most important collections formed in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Hugh Munro of Novar (1797–1864) was a Scottish landowner and amateur artist who devoted the greater part of his life to collecting pictures. He became a close friend and major patron of Turner – acquiring some sixteen paintings and over one hundred and thirty watercolours – and eventually acted as Turner’s executor. In 1847 the Art union publication stated that Munro’s collection at Park Street contained ‘ a considerable number of Turner’s finest works, indeed to such an extent, that it is here, perhaps, that he can best be studied, with the exception of his own gallery’. In 1854, Gustav Waagen commented on the ‘perfect treasury’ of drawings by Turner in the Munro collection. After Munro’s death the bulk of his collection was dispersed by the 1880s (364 pictures and 55 watercolours in 1877; 104 lots of British pictures including 9 oils and 32 watercolours by Turner, followed by 153 old masters in 1878; 707 lots of pictures in 1880 and various smaller family sales throughout the twentieth century).
John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929), a renowned connoisseur characterised by Leporini as the greatest collector of drawings in England since Sir Thomas Lawrence, is primarily remembered as a collector of old master drawings and paintings. A small but significant portion of his collection was formed of British works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries including a distinguished group of works by Turner. Heseltine’s collection was largely dispersed between 1912 and 1935: he sold some six hundred drawings to Colnaghi in 1912, forty drawings by Claude were acquired by the Louvre in 1918, whilst the bulk of the collection was dispersed in a series of seven auctions (containing, in total, 1500 lots) between 1913 and 1935 and many of the most distinguished drawings now held in the great Print Rooms throughout the word were acquired at these sales.