Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies for Figures in ‘Dido and Aeneas’; and of a Horse, Related to ‘The Destruction of Sodom’

1805

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 171 x 190 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D05773
Turner Bequest XCIII 4 a

Catalogue entry

The leaf is torn and reduced in size; see note to the recto (D05772).
Dido and Aeneas (Tate N00494)1 was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814 but probably painted earlier. For the picture and subject, see especially catalogue note to the coloured study in the contemporary Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05520; Turner Bequest XC 21). A further composition study, in pen and wash, is on folio 5 of the present sketchbook (D05774), while further figure studies on folios 5 verso–7 (D05775–D05778) have been associated with the picture since Finberg. Hill goes so far as to say that in this sketchbook ‘the full composition and most of the details are established’ and suggests on this basis that the picture was probably begun in 1805 and perhaps exhibited at Turner’s Gallery in 1806. Warrell notes a possible source for Turner’s subject in the View of Carthage with Dido and Aeneas by Claude Lorrain (Kunsthalle, Hamburg) that had passed through the London art market in 1801; however, as he points out, Turner’s conception of the ancient city is far more elaborate than Claude’s.
Here, a kneeling woman and companion at upper right and figures with hunting dogs at lower left anticipate the picture. At upper left of centre are the beginnings of a sketch of a rearing horse which is developed further, with surrounding figures, on folios 5 and especially 6 verso and 7. Assuming the connection with Dido and Aeneas the motif must be related to the horses which in the picture cross a bridge in the right foreground. Turner painted them as ‘equi effrenati ... without bridles’, and when told by Henry Scott Trimmer that ‘the Libyan horses had no bridles ... said he knew it’.2 The rearing posture of the horses in these drawings and efforts of some of the figures to control them would fit this belief. However, in keeping with its Neoclassical poise, the horses in the picture cross the bridge in an orderly column and instead Turner seems to have used the rearing horse from his drawings in another context, in the centre of The Destruction of Sodom (Tate N00474).3 This connection has not been noticed before and might support the date of ‘about 1805’ first suggested for Sodom by Walter Thornbury, while not necessarily confirming the possibility floated by Butlin and Joll (without evidence as they admit) that it was shown in Turner’s Gallery that year.

David Blayney Brown
October 2007

1
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.92–3 no.129 (pl.135).
2
For this story, reported by Turner’s first biographer Walter Thornbury, see ibid., p.93.
3
Ibid., p.44 no.56 (pl.66).

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