Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Wooded Rocky Landscape: ?Study for ‘Mercury and Argus’ or Thomas Campbell’s ‘Poems’

c.1834–6

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

Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 101 x 77 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D28865
Turner Bequest CCXCI b 52

Catalogue entry

With the page turned vertically, a loose watercolour landscape comprises trees in the foreground, leading to high rocks on the right and a moonlit sky below to the left. Andrew Wilton first proposed a connection between this and the similar study on folio 51 verso (D28863) and the watercolours Turner prepared in about 1835 to be engraved for Thomas Campbell’s Poems, published in 1837;1 Jan Piggott later suggested that the present page relates to the design for the poem O’Connor’s Child (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh),2 with ‘some figures, the castle and the moon’ in common.3Various slight watercolour studies on separate sheets (Tate D27557, D27559, D27574–D27576; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40, 42, 57, 58, 59) have also been linked to the subject; of them all, the present page seems more likely to be connected, assuming the resemblance of such elemental forms is not fortuitous.
With acknowledgement to Ian Warrell’s then-forthcoming survey of the erotica in the Turner Bequest, of which there are examples elsewhere in this sketchbook, this page was noted by Michael Kitson4 along with D28863 as a study for the mythological painting Mercury and Argus, exhibited in 1836 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).5 Warrell subsequently suggested that the aspects of ‘sight, of voyeurism and surveillance’ associated with the erotic subjects might have informed Turner’s ‘initial realisation of a potential idea’ for the painting, as the story involves such themes.6 As with the proposed link to Campbell, the slightness of the studies here seems to preclude a definitive resolution.
This is one of various watercolour and pencil landscape studies towards the end of this sketchbook, as set out in the Introduction. Of these, the variant pencil studies on folio 56 recto (D28873) might have some connection to the present page.
The unaccessioned, blank recto is inscribed in red ink ‘52’ and stamped ‘CCXCI(b) – 52’.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

1
Wilton 1974, p.126; see also p.101, and Wilton 1977, p.72.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.452 no.1276, reproduced.
3
Piggott 1993, p.62.
4
KItson in Warrell, Chavanne and Kitson 2002, p.184 note 48.
5
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.217–19 no.367, pl.372 (colour).
6
Warrell 2003, p.28; see also Warrell 2002, p.198 note 38, and Warrell 2012, p.100.

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