Introducing Turner’s, ‘The High Street, Oxford’ by Helen Ward (Ashmolean)

It was brilliant to welcome Year 9 students from Oxford Spires Academy to the Museum on Tuesday 17 May. The focus of this session was the painting itself and JMW Turner.

A sketching activity, designed to encourage close observation revealed that Turner’s ‘The High Street, Oxford’ is ‘full of details’. When prompted to imagine noises and smells one student volunteered, ‘That smell of wet concrete like when it rains’.

Turner quiz

Turner quiz

Students went on to ponder whether, James Wyatt the Oxford printmaker who commissioned Turner was pleased with the work. ‘I don’t know how anybody could be disappointed with a painting like that’ commented one student. In fact Wyatt was so delighted with the painting he gave Turner some game and sausages on top of his 100 guineas fee!



The group then got to put their questions to curator, Colin Harrison. These covered everything from why and how Turner painted Oxford High Street and how long it may have taken (probably 2-3 months) through to Turner’s own life. We discovered that Turner lived in London but visited Oxford because he had relatives in the area. Colin was also quizzed about working at the Museum, ‘What do you do and do you like your job?’ (he does!)

Viewing Turner’s watercolours in the Print Room with Dr Caroline Palmer

Viewing Turner’s watercolours in the Print Room

Finally, students  enjoyed the special opportunity to look at some of Turner’s watercolours in the hushed atmosphere of the Print Room, surrounded by the aroma of antique books and prints. Dr Caroline Palmer welcomed the group, showing  us some of Turner’s watercolours of local scenes, created for the Oxford Almanac, a yearly calendar (published by OUP).

Alongside the paintings, students also saw some amazing 3D interpretations of Oxford buildings created in fine metals and clay by local artists Vicki Ambery-Smith and Hugh Colvin. Students photographed them to compare the effect of 2D and 3D representations of the city. More of this to follow in the sessions to come….

Students then got creative, using PicCollage to create montages about Turner. Some fantastic work was created that will contribute towards Discover Arts Awards.

Nadia's Pic Collage

Nadia’s Pic Collage

Libby's Pic Collage

Libby’s Pic Collage










Next week: we will be walking the High Street to compare the view today with the one that Turner painted. A special highlight will be our behind the scenes tour of The Queen’s College and a chance to see what is hiding behind those sandstone walls…


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