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This study of snakes and bones in a rocky setting has long been contentious. See note to folio 43 verso of this sketchbook (D04787) for John Ruskin’s note labelling a parcel containing this drawing as studies for Apollo and Python exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 (Tate N00488).1 Discounting this, Finberg associated it with Jason exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1802 (Tate N00471).2 This view was maintained by Kathleen Nicholson. However, the sketchbook was bought in Switzerland and Jason predated Turner’s departure from London.
Instead, the 1974 Royal Academy catalogue and Butlin and Joll suggested the drawing is for The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides exhibited at the British Institution in 1806 (Tate N00477).3 A further drawing possibly for this picture is on folio 45 (D04789). The fact that Turner based the picture’s background on Swiss scenery may account for the presence of related sketches in this book, as he may have been leafing through it in search of a suitable mountain setting. See Introduction and catalogue note to folio 43 verso (D04787) for the three studies for historical compositions in the book, and their possible dates later in the decade. Various drawings for The Goddess of Discord are in the Hesperides (1) sketchbook (Tate D05766–D05842; D05844; D40632; D40634–D40636; Turner Bequest XCIII). Andrew Wilton however disputes a connection with The Goddess of Discord, and is inclined (following Ruskin) to think the present drawing either a study for part of the background of Apollo and Python, or ‘a further idea connected with the dragons combated by Apollo, Jason and Cadmus’.4
Inscribed in an unknown hand in ink ‘191’ (within circle) bottom right