View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
To the right are two ink studies of a seated woman with her arms raised to dress her hair. In one her head is turned away to show the profile of her cheek; her legs and feet, in rough pencil outline, appear disproportionately large. In the more developed of the sketches she is shown nude, except for perfunctory indications of drapery over her crossed legs, and her head is turned at an extreme angle so that its back is presented, although her body is seen from the left front quarter.
This figure was incorporated into the design for the Liber Studiorum print of Aesacus and Hesperie, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Turner’s only known treatment of the episode, where Aesacus sees Hesperie drying her hair by a river in a woodland setting. No freehand study for the whole composition is known, but there is an impression of Turner’s etched outline, with the tones indicated in watercolour (Tate D08166; Turner Bequest CXVIII L). The published etching and mezzotint engraving bears the date 1 January 1819 and the title ‘Æsacus and Hesperie | Vide Ovid Mets. Book XI.’ Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A01138) and the first state of the engraving (A01139).
The present studies differ from the Liber etching and first published state, where Hesperie’s face is shown as she looks to her left towards Aesacus in the right foreground, suggesting that she is about to catch sight of him. From the second state onwards (not represented in the Tate Collection),1 her face is turned away, and she wrings her long, loose hair in a more natural gesture than shown here, implying her head is turned only a little. It is unclear whether the present studies precede or follow the first state, presumably printed before 1819 if the lettered date of publication is accurate. In any case, the earliest date that can be assigned is 1817 or 1818, owing to the 1817 watermark on other pages as noted by Finberg.2 The figures’ significance was recognised by John Ruskin, who endorsed the sketchbook with a note on its wrapper (now presumed lost): ‘Study for figure in Æsacus and Hesperie’ and ‘Study for figure for Æsacus and Hesperie. Otherwise valueless’.3
But see for example Bury Art Gallery’s impression, reproduced in Gillian Forrester, David Hill, Matthew Imms and others, Reisen mit William Turner: J.M.W. Turner: Das Liber Studiorum, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Stihl, Waiblingen 2008, p.171 (colour).
Forrester 1996, p.128.
As transcribed in Finberg 1909, I, p.488.