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Anthony Bailey first suggested without further comment1 that this delicate study represents Sophia Caroline Booth (1798–1875), Turner’s companion in later years after she was widowed in 1833.2 She had been the artist’s landlady on his regular visits to Margate in Kent; see the section of Margate and related subjects from about 1829 onwards elsewhere in the present catalogue, and the Introductions there to the Marine Dabblers sketchbook (Tate; Tuner Bequest CCXLI) and the subsection of sea and shore views from the vicinity of Mrs Booth’s house.
Ian Warrell has described the work’s ‘tone’ as ‘modest, domestic even’, and in dating it as likely from the 1830s he has concurred with Bailey’s proposal.3 Warrell has suggested that ‘some of the erotic sketches of Turner’s last twenty years were stimulated by his intimacy’4 with Mrs Booth. The presentation of a woman, apparently reclining in bed with her breasts exposed, may consciously or unconsciously echo the well-known, more overtly erotic subjects of Matthew William Peters (1742–1814) such as his painting Lydia of about 1777 (Tate T04848), a version of which had been engraved in 1776. Turner may have had a more explicit presentation in mind here; although the detail fades off towards the right, it is possible that the woman’s left hand rests on a lightly indicated knee, suggesting that the left leg is drawn up, while the dark red folds of what at first glance seem to be bedclothes at the top right might, again consciously or not, have anatomical significance.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘ccclxiv 269’ bottom left; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCLXIV – 269’ bottom right.