Joseph Mallord William Turner Scarborough c.1825
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Scarborough c.1825

Tate’s 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 Turner’s death as part of the Turner Bequest in 1856. These were first catalogued in A.J. Finberg’s 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 Finberg’s 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, Tate has begun to publish what will be a comprehensive catalogue of its holdings of Turner’s works on paper with accompanying essays, J.M.W. Turner: Drawings, Sketchbooks and Watercolours.

Written by Tate curators, conservators and researchers, as well as external specialists and visiting fellows, the catalogue entries comprise full bibliographies, exhibition histories, critical commentaries, and technical and conservation data on the media, materials and condition of the individual works. These 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. Providing extensive discussion of the different contexts, both historical and contemporary, in which Turner’s 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 Turner’s long career in terms of five periods: 

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 are 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. The first tranche of entries was published in 2012 and further tranches have been published since. New entries and further developments of the site are planned.

Project contributors:

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
Alice Rylance-Watson, Cataloguer
Joyce H Townsend, 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).

Project Information

Project leader: 
David Blayney Brown, Curator, 18th and 19th Century British Art
Project team: 
David Blayney Brown, Curator, 18th- and 19th-Century British Art
Alex Cary, Digital Editor (Research)
Diane Hall, Database Architect
Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research
Alex Pilcher, Web Developer