Joseph Mallord William Turner

Costings for the ‘Liber Studiorum’ (Inscriptions by Turner)


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 x 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXI 96 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription reads:
                            Say 40 clear one Number 
2215                            40 
 500 drawing                    20 number 
 760 sub.                      --- 
3475                         Allowing discount of 25 upon proofs.  
 443                         For 70 additional Proofs for 4 Nos. supposed them all sold 
 500                         Supposed value of drawings after engraved.  
 800                         The 100 prints subscribed for & 20 proofs.  
3072                         Whole profit supposing the 70 (100 deleted) proofs sold 
                             at £2 2 save the charge of printing; 30 proofs of each plate 
The column of figures at lower left is crossed out.
Turner continues the analysis of the financing of the Liber Studiorum begun on folio 97 verso of the sketchbook (D07749). There, he estimates the clear profit of one number of the series of prints after deduction of expenses as £39. 19. 6 but now begins by rounding it up to £40. Then he reckons on £500 as the sale value of the original drawings. He goes on to assess the impact of a rise in price on the profitability of the publication and considers how to boost revenue. Further, related sums are on folio 97 (D07748).
These calculations are discussed in detail by Finberg and Gillian Forrester whose interpretations differ in several respects, not least in dating, the former assigning them to early in 1809 and the latter arguing that they may be later. As Forrester notes, James Holworthy, cited on 97 verso as a buyer, paid for his first number of the Liber on 19 March 1814, as observed by John Gage who, nevertheless, dates Holworthy’s appearance in the sketchbook to 1811.1
Turner’s plan here is to release an extra seventy so-called proofs at two guineas each. Assuming they all sell, and deducting other costs, he forecasts a total profit of £3475. As Forrester shows, his assumptions are unrealistic, not least because the status of these ‘proofs’ was dubious. In a note in the contemporary Finance sketchbook (Tate D40900) Turner estimates the ‘Probable Advantage of the Liber Studiorum’ at the lower (but still unlikely) sum of £2000.

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980., p.260.

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