Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Curtained Bed, with a Naked Man and Woman Engaged in Sexual Activity

c.1834–6

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 79 x 101 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D28884
Turner Bequest CCXCI c 10

Catalogue entry

It has been proposed that the sequence between folios 1 recto and 12 verso (D28874–D28886) ‘form a series of studies narrating an erotic adventure’ as distinct from other ‘studies on similar themes throughout the book’.1 There may be a case for extending or shortening this range slightly – Raphael Rosenberg has suggested that it ends at folio 11 recto (D28885),2 after the throes of passion – but in principle this seems likely, as some of the scenes are more conventionally pictorial and carefully defined by drawing with the brush (albeit sometimes sexually explicit) than the often rather rough, undeveloped washes later on. Jack Lindsay has imagined them as ‘the record of an episode at an inn (on the Rhine, perhaps). A set of delightful little paintings show a servant-girl undressing, a couple tumbling in the large bed, compositions derived from their embraces, and what are almost pure effects of colour and light derived from the experience.’3
Whatever Turner’s overall idea may have been, here the man and woman are fully entwined in a curtained bed, and anatomical accuracy gives way to a dynamic flurry of limbs, their movement emphasised by both wash and pencil outlines in a tangle of movement to the extent that their heads and upper bodies become a blur; Gerald Wilkinson described the subject as ‘neither well-conceived nor well drawn.’4
For a discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see the Introduction.
1
Wilton 1974, p.126; see also Andrew Wilton in John Gage, Jerrold Ziff, Nicholas Alfrey and others, J.M.W. Turner, à l’occasion du cinquantième anniversaire du British Council, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris 1983, p.[239] under no.173.
2
See Rosenberg 2007, p.327 note 23.
3
Lindsay 1966, p.161.
4
Wilkinson 1975, p.77.
Verso:
Blank

Matthew Imms
May 2014

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