View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
34a. [D02380] A Dark Landscape with Trees and Mountains
THE BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON (LI-M)
Canvas, approx. 12 1/4 × 15 1/4 (31·5 × 39)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856.
Lit. Ziff 1980, p. 167.
Based on a pencil drawing in the ‘Dinevor Castle’ sketchbook, used by Turner in the summer of 1798 (XL-8 verso). This was described by Finberg (1909, p. 94) as ‘Sketch for historical composition: perhaps one of the Plagues of Egypt’, but, although there are several figures in the landscape, this identification seems far-fetched. The figure lying on the ground on the left is itself the subject of a separate drawing on page 73 recto of the same sketchbook, where it is accompanied by a partly erased female figure; Andrew Wilton (verbal communication) has suggested that they represent Pyramus and Thisbe.
In the painting only the figure on the ground remains, with a suggestion of blood as if the figure were dead; no other figures are shown. However, the picture is unfinished, the central tree lacking its full detail; there are other unresolved features, particularly the isolated stroke of paint just to the left of the central tree. Unusually for Turner, the picture is painted over a pink ground.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984