Sublime Sites

Explorations in the footsteps of Turner, Cotman and Ruskin with Professor David Hill

A Twopeny Portfolio: #15 Tolethorpe Mill, near Little Casterton, c.1828

This article considers the fifteenth work of twenty-five bought at Anderson & Garland Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 March 2017, lot 46 as Various Artists (British 19th Century) Sundry drawings and watercolours, mainly topographical and floral studies, including a grisaille “South Gate Lynn, Norfolk”, bearing the signature J.S. Cotman, various sizes, all unframed in a folio.

Here we consider a second treatment of Tolethorpe Mill, but here finished in sepia wash and by a different hand to all those in the main series thus far.

Susanna Twopenny or Catharine Twopeny
Tolethorpe Mill, near Little Casterton, Rutland
[Verso] Rochester Castle, Kent.
Pencil and sepia wash on medium-weight, buff, handmade, rag, wove paper, watermarked ‘J WH[..atman]/ TURK[..EY MILL]’, 233 x 180 mm.
Inscribed in pencil on verso: ‘Tolthorpe Mill’, and more faintly across centre, ‘Catharine’, and to right of Rochester Castle ‘Tower’, and initialled lower right corner, ‘S T’. There is a distinct crease running up the sheet towards the left side as seen from the verso, ?possibly where the sheet was hung on a line to dry during manufacture.

This is a vigorously drawn and tinted landscape of large, barn-like building stretching across the centre of the composition under a sagging, tiled roof. A stream issues from under the building to the right, and occupies the foreground. Left of centre is a chimney above a small dormer, with small lean-to extensions either side. A simple, rustic wooden bridge with railings and a gate crosses the stream to the right. A woman and a child appear at the centre of the composition, evidently just having crossed the bridge, where they meet another woman towards the left, seated in the sunshine outside the entrance to the building.

Tolethorpe Mill, Rutlandshire
Photograph by David Hill, 6 February 2020

The subject is the north side of Tolethorpe Mill, on the River Gwash not far from Little Casterton in Rutlandshire. The building is much changed today, principally by being heightened by two storeys. Some features of the building as depicted survive however, notably the two-light window to the right, the porch in the centre, the window immediately left of that and the original doorway, although that is now blocked. The rustic bridge over the tail-race has been replaced in character. The south side of the mill with the head race appears in a previously discussed drawing in the portfolio (see part #14). The time of day must be late afternoon, with the sun shining almost full on the west-facing walls.

On the verso is a slight, but sensitively-drawn, sketch of Rochester Castle in Kent. The viewpoint is to the south-west of the Castle on the right bank of the river Medway, and the scene is readily recognisable from the public park that today occupies the site. I hope at some stage to see whether it can be photographed from exactly the same viewpoint, but for now a Google Earth user has shared a photograph from a similar viewpoint, but slightly nearer and further left.

This sheet stands apart from the main sequence of drawings in the portfolio that we have been discussing thus far. Those are all by the same hand, on similar paper, and are similarly mounted and inscribed. Some of the sheets are inscribed with a number, probably indicating the pagination of the original album. The present drawing does not appear ever to have been mounted, and is unique in being worked up with sepia washes.

The style of the pencil work is generally similar to that of the main group of pencil drawings. The style of the drawing of Rochester is particularly fine. The pencil work of Tolethorpe Mill, however is vigorous and expressive, but not close enough tothat f the main series of drawings to be by the same hand. In particular, the treatment of trees and foliage, impressive in all the drawings thus far, is not so assured here. Nor, I think we may judge, is the treatment of architectural form in the mill quite so confident. The building itself might in part be to blame, but its age notwithstanding, the perspectival angles of the drawing do not seem altogether assured. The general style of the draftsmanship, however, particularly the treatment of stone and tile, is close enough to suggest same commonality with the main sequence, and like all the previous the treatment of the figures is both deft and affective.

The coincidence of Rochester and Tolethorpe on the back and front of the same sheet, exemplifies the two main domains of the Twopeny family. The main branch of the family was built around the family legal practice in the Cathedral Close in Rochester, and as we have seen in previous articles, one of the Rochester scions, the Revd Richard Twopeny took root in Little Casterton. The main sequence of pencil drawings is given here to David Twopeny (1803 – 1875) and he has been introduced in earlier instalments. Interestingly a history of the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester reproduces a brick there that bears David Twopeny’s carved initials.

From the stylistic character of the present drawing we are perhaps looking for a different hand in the family and the inscriptions on the reverse of the present drawing bring two other candidates into consideration.

‘Catharine’ could very well be David Twopeny’s younger sister (c.1807-1874). At a first perusal I can discover very little about her, except that at some point she appears to have emigrated to Kentucky, USA where she died at the age of sixty-seven.

‘ST’ is almost certainly David Twopeny’s older sister, Susanna, born 1796, who survived him to endow, with her brother Edward, a school in his former parish of Stockbury, Kent. A watercolour advertised for sale recently of St Margaret’s Church, Rochester has been attributed to her. It is not by any means as assured as the present work, and it is not altogether clear on what the attribution rests, except for a label on the backboard, but it might be rather earlier than the present work. The inscriptions, however, do appear to implicate one of the sisters. There is evidence, as we shall see, that both were artistic for in later instalments we will consider quite impressive watercolours by both ‘S.T.’ and ‘C. Twopeny’.

From this, it begins to appear that Cotman cast his influence over a whole family of Twopeny artists. This particular work take us back to the beginning of this journey and the watercolour by Cotman of The South Gate, King’s Lynn that was the original occasion of my becoming interested in this portfolio.

Side-by side is seems quite clear that the artist of the present work must have had some direct knowledge of Cotman’s sepia work. Apart from the fact that the two drawings are similar in size, the approach is the same. A positively worked pencil drawing, elaborated with a careful build-up of tonal washes. The Cotman is probably more judicious and his washes invested with a sense of sensitivity, texture and experience; certainly it is more economic and direct. The present drawing seems less practiced, more striving, and less decided about its means of expression. The relative treatment of the surface of the water is especially diagnostic.

Nonetheless the present drawing has real quality in places. The treatment of the spars of the bridge and gate is especially Cotmanesque and would certainly I think have drawn his approbation. Given the 1818 date of the King’s Lynn watercolour, it is quite possible that it entered the Twopeny family collection in good time for it to have been a reference. The sense of Cotman in these works seems so strong as to argue that at some point various members of the family must have come under his tutelage, but when and where their paths could have converged remains to be established.

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED:

Next, Little Casterton Church

 

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This entry was posted on February 23, 2020 by in Twopeny and tagged , , , , , , , .
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