View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
As discussed in the introduction, most of the drawings in this book are rapid figure studies, many of which are explicitly erotic; others may be similar in intent, but are difficult to make out, and may be of classical or biblical subjects. Here Turner’s inscription indicates the Roman god Mercury, identifiable by his winged helmet, and the hundred-eyed cowherd Argus whom he kills at Jupiter’s command, having first charmed him with the pipes which are possibly indicated at Mercury’s shoulder. The story is told by the Roman poet Ovid.1
Turner exhibited a painting of Mercury and Argus in 1836 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa),2 showing them as inconspicuous figures in different poses in an idyllic landscape.