Joseph Mallord William Turner A Couple Engaged in Sexual Intercourse c.1807–14

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Artwork details

Title
A Couple Engaged in Sexual Intercourse
From Finance Sketchbook
Turner Bequest CXXII
Date c.1807–14
Medium Graphite on paper
Dimensions Support: 69 x 112 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08342
Turner Bequest CXXII 37
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, the naked woman on the left, seen from the front, appears to be seated with her body upright; she supports herself leaning back on her right hand, with her monumental, Michelangelo-esque right leg drawn up in profile. The equally naked man is shown as a confused, dynamic vortex of truncated limbs on the right. Ian Warrell has called the drawing a ‘perfunctory scrawl’ to evoke the ‘raw essence’ of the activity by focusing in particular on the ‘darker, more heavily worked area of the genitals’.1 He suggests that the immediate inspiration may have been Turner’s brief note connecting sex and religion on folio 42 recto (D08350)2 (perhaps made with the same scratchy pen), and makes a comparison with the ‘athletic pairings’ of Indian temple sculptures, fragments of which Turner might have seen in London.3
In his extensively illustrated compendium of Turner Bequest sketches, Gerald Wilkinson only mentioned this drawing in his text, describing it as a ‘scribble of two people copulating, but it is nothing worth reproducing’.4
1
Warrell 2003, p.17.
2
Ibid., p.18; see also Warrell 2012, p.76.
3
Warrell 2012, p.76.
4
Wilkinson 1974, p.124.
Technical notes:
A pale, flesh-toned watercolour wash appears to have been roughly applied across the figures.

Matthew Imms
September 2013

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