Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Curtained Bed, with Two Figures Including a Woman Watching a Reclining Naked Woman

c.1834–6

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 77 x 101 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D28835
Turner Bequest CCXCI b 35

Catalogue entry

Here, in one of the least ambiguous studies in this sketchbook (prompting likely erotic readings of the rather less developed pages),1 two figures appear to be leaning in between the curtains of a bed to watch a reclining naked woman. The right-hand observer is evidently a woman, as her own breasts are exposed, but the other is less clearly defined; Anthony Bailey has described them as ‘extra-terrestrial-looking’ and symptomatic of the ‘sensuality and cunning’ that Turner’s friend the artist David Roberts (1796–1864) attributed to him, which here seem ‘more evident than any ability to draw the human form’.2 Robert Upstone notes that this ‘act of voyeurism seems to strike at the heart of Turner’s interest in making such drawings’.3 Some of the forms of the initial washes were offset to or from folio 36 recto opposite (D28837), and Raphael Rosenberg has given this as an example of Klecksography, or drawings generated by random smudging, in this case starting from a sort of proto-Rorschach mirror image, albeit in this case the compositions on the opposite pages were developed in different ways4 (see the overall Introduction to the present grouping).
For a wider discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see elsewhere in the Introduction. Rosenberg has compared the treatment of the figures here with the head which appears in a study in the Fishing at the Weir sketchbook (Tate D27735; Turner Bequest CCLXXXI 6a) as evidence that they were done within a short space of time.5
When this sketchbook was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1966, the exhibited pages were not specified in the catalogue, and two double page spreads were reproduced: this and the opposite page (D28837), and folios 41 verso–42 recto (D28844, D28846). When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1974, according to the catalogue it was open at ‘f.29v Two Figures Watching a Sleeping Woman ... f.30r A Couple in a Bed’6 but, despite the folio numbers, these titles in no way correspond to the slight subjects on folios 29 verso and 30 recto (D28827, D28828); rather, they apparently describe the more fully worked themes on this page and D28837, and it is assumed here that these were the pages exhibited. Although not in the catalogue, this page was exhibited at Seduced: Art & Sex from Antiquity to Now (Barbican Art Gallery, London, October 2007–February 2008) by association with D28837, which was documented as ‘Colour Sketch Petworth’, of about 1835–40.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

1
See Rosenberg 2007, p.117.
2
Bailey 1997, p.284.
3
Upstone 2002, p.152.
4
See Rosenberg 2007, pp.126–7.
5
Ibid., p.327 note 24.
6
Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.126 no.455.

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