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As Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace point out, this is a drawing of the Royal Academy’s ‘Hunter écorché’, the plaster cast of a flayed man (a criminal hanged at Tyburn) posed in a standard, traditional art-school position. Dr William Hunter, the Academy’s first Professor of Anatomy, 1768–83, had the cast made when previously lecturing to the Society of Painters, and added it to the Academy’s cast collection. (He also lectured with living models and used the corpses of criminals.) The date of this study is suggested by the presence on the verso (D40224) of a sketch connected with a view of Westminster with Henry VII’s Chapel (private collection)1 and confirmed by technical similarities to others among the artist’s papers (private collection), which in turn relate closely to the two écorché studies in a sketchbook at Princeton (folios 26 verso, 27 recto).2 Two studies in the same private collection show the Hunter écorché from two different angles. In these, the muscles are numbered according to a key inscribed in pencil on one of the sheets. The verso of the same sheet has the following notes:
3 [i.e. the Trapesus] arises from the hinder part of the head from the spines of the Vertebrae of the neck and the eight open ones of the Back and is inserted into the [?Spine] and [?Anroseum] of the Scapula and the Clavicula 8 This may likewise be called Triceps Brachallis it being composed of the Brachaeus externus which rises from about the middle and hinder Part of the Humerus the Musculus Longus which rises from the lower part of the scapula and the Musculus brevis which rises from the hinder part of the Humerus these 3 join together and make one Tendon which covers the Elbow and is inserted into the hinder part Olecranum It rises from the back part of the outer purtuberance [sic] of the Humerus and is inserted into the Ulna 4 Fingers breadth below the Olecranium.
The other écorché study surviving in Tate’s collection (Tate D00125; Turner Bequest X B) seems considerably cruder in technique and has accordingly been allocated an earlier date in this catalogue.
Anne Lyles, Young Turner: Early Work to 1800: Watercolours and Drawings from the Turner Bequest 1787–1800, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, p.13, reproduced; Andrew Wilton, Turner as Draughtsman, 2006, p.25, fig.3.1.
See Robin Hamlyn, ‘An Early Sketchbook of J.M.W. Turner in the Art Museum of Princeton University’, Record of the Art Museum of Princeton University, vol.44, no.2, 1985, pp.2–23.