Joseph Mallord William Turner

Nude Swiss Girl and a Companion on a Bed

1802

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 163 x 198 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D04798
Turner Bequest LXXVIII 1

Catalogue entry

Turner turned the sketchbook sideways to make this drawing. It has been much discussed for its likely insights into Turner’s psyche, argument often focusing on the gender of the second, more shadowy figure whose arm clasps the naked girl. If, as most often supposed, it is another woman, Turner might either be venting some lesbian fantasy or recalling an encounter that he and his travelling companion, Newbey Lowson, had shared, perhaps in a brothel in Berne (where he bought the sketchbook). If it is a man, the autobiographical tone would be all the stronger, the model presumably being Lowson or Turner himself. The evidence of the clothing discarded in the foreground is inconclusive. This includes two wide-brimmed straw hats of the type worn by Swiss girls, but the problematic figure seems to rest its head on a third, decorated with a ribbon.
Verso:
Blank, save for slight offsets of red and blue-grey washes from folio 2 recto of the sketchbook (D04799). There is also some water-staining, perhaps from the 1928 Tate Gallery flood.

David Blayney Brown
May 2003

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