View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
With the page turned horizontally, an interior is shown, flanked rather theatrically with walls hung with pictures. Beyond is the dark space of a curtained bed, recalling those Turner had recorded in his 1827 gouache interiors of Petworth House (Tate; Turner Bequest CCXLIV) and prefiguring the sequence of erotic wash studies with such settings in the Colour Studies (1) and (2) sketchbooks of the mid-1830s (Tate; Turner Bequest CCXCI b and c); compare for example Tate D28877 (Turner Bequest CCXCI c 4).
Like the Colour Studies compositions, the subject here is rather provisional, and there seems to be a figure (or figures) lying in the bed, as well as what appears to be a clothed couple embracing towards the right.1 Andrew Wilton has also noted a fortuitous similarity with the gouache Reclining Nude on a Bed (previously known as ‘Scene at a Play’ or ‘The Murder’: Tate D32236; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 17).2 Finberg misread the present composition as ‘figures and shipping’,3 presumably reading the shadowy recesses of the bed as a sail.
As noted in the sketchbook’s Introduction, there are seaside studies at Margate on other pages, but the setting here appears somewhat grand for the small lodging house of Mrs Booth (with whom Turner later had a relationship), and is probably imaginary. See also the nude study on folio 51 verso (D22520).