Tates holdings of sketchbooks, drawings and watercolours by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) are among its greatest treasures. The vast majority of these, numbering approximately 37,000 accessioned works, came to the nation after Turners death as part of the Turner Bequest in 1856. However, the only published catalogue of these remains A.J. Finbergs A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, which appeared in 1909 and is essentially a handlist.
Tate is undertaking an ambitious revision of Finbergs inventory and is also cataloguing works on paper by Turner acquired from other sources. Drawing upon a wealth of research conducted inside and outside the museum, the project will see the publication of a comprehensive catalogue on Tates website. Tate is committed to publishing scholarly research projects on its collection online, and has developed new software to support these processes and allow users to navigate easily across the projects contents.
Written by Tate curators, conservators and researchers, as well as external specialists and visiting fellows, catalogue entries comprise full bibliographies, exhibition histories, critical commentaries, and technical and conservation data on the media, materials and condition of the individual works. The texts incorporate a wealth of new discoveries. Many hitherto unidentified or misidentified subjects have been properly identified, and original inscriptions have been transcribed for the first time; works have also been redated in the light of new evidence. (Already, this new information is reflected in the information provided in the works individual pages within the Art & Artists section of Tates website.) Providing extensive discussion of the different contexts, both historical and contemporary, in which Turners works can be seen, as well as access to a broad spectrum of critical discourse, the project aims to be of benefit to a diverse range of disciplines and interest groups, as well as to art historians and exhibition makers.
The project looks at Turners long career in terms of three periods: early (1785–1801), middle (1802–20) and late (1821–45). Within each, works are arranged chronologically and thematically, in groups related by date or subject (for example, those made on a tour of a particular region undertaken by Turner). Texts for each thematic grouping introduce the materials brought together within the grouping, discussing their subject, context and historical background. Within these groupings, sketchbooks have bespoke introductions and entries for each page, and all individual works have their own catalogue entries. Readers will be able to search the collection by subject, date or theme, navigate easily between related works and texts, and access brief or detailed information about each work, as preferred.
To date, the early and middle periods have been substantially catalogued, and sections of the later period have also been examined, including Turners tours of the Scottish Highlands in 1831, 1834 and of the Val dAosta in 1836, perspective lecture diagrams and associated drawings, and vignette studies. The first tranche of entries will be published in 2012, followed by successive groupings of entries until the project is completed in 2014.
Thomas Ardill, Cataloguer
David Blayney Brown, Curator, 18th and 19th Century British Art
Andrea Fredericksen, Kress Fellow
Meredith Gamer, Kress Fellow
Professor David Hill, University of Leeds
Matthew Imms, Cataloguer
Nicola Moorby, Cataloguer
Joyce Townshend, Senior Conservation Scientist
Ian Warrell, Curator, 18th and 19th Century British Art
Andrew Wilton, Senior Research Fellow
Supported by The Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation (2003-5), The Samuel H. Kress Foundation (2003, 2006) and The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (2003–5).