View of the High Street, OxfordOn display
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Acknowledged as one of the greatest landscape artists of all time, Turner (1775–1851) knew Oxford extremely well and, from childhood, made numerous drawings of the streets and colleges and the picturesque views surrounding the city. One his most important early commissions was for two watercolours to be engraved for the Oxford Almanack, the annual calendar published by the University Press. They were so successful that he eventually completed ten watercolours between 1798 and 1804, and later painted two oils for the local print-seller and frame-maker, James Wyatt, including the celebrated High Street, Oxford (1810).
The painting is one of the most fully documented of all Turner’s works because Wyatt kept his correspondence with the artist which was included in his posthumous sale. The original purpose of the commission was to have the design engraved. Wyatt settled on an oil painting, instead of a watercolour, half the size of Turner’s normal canvases, at a cost of 100 guineas. The artist worked on the painting over the winter of 1809–10, consulting Wyatt on the details of the architecture included in the view. The final stage involved the introduction of figures, members of the University and clergy, and some women ‘for the sake of colour’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812. When, in the 1830s, Turner was choosing views of Oxford for his greatest series of watercolours, he rejected the High Street. He felt that in this painting he had achieved an unparalleled view of technical mastery that he could not repeat.
View of the High Street, Oxford
Artist/makerJoseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851)
Date1809 - 1810
Material and technique
oil on canvas
Dimensionscanvas 68.6 x 99.7 cm (height x width)
No. of items
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Ashmolean Museum, 2016, with additional funding from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean, Mr and Mrs Timothy Sanderson, Mr and Mrs Mark Houghton-Berry, and many private donors, 2016.
Museum locationThird floor | Gallery 67 | 19th-century Art
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Butlin, Martin; Joll, Evelyn, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised edn, 2 (New Haven and London, 1984), 102, ---, illus. ---