Joseph Mallord William Turner Study for ‘Dido and Aeneas’ 1805

Artwork details

Study for ‘Dido and Aeneas’
Date 1805
Medium Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions Support: 150 x 258 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 21
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Catalogue entry

This richly-coloured study is described by Butlin and Joll as Turner’s ‘first idea’ for Dido and Aeneas exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814 (Tate N00494),1 although it is itself based on a preliminary outline sketch on folio 17 of the sketchbook (D05513). Here, the main elements of the composition are already in place: Dido’s dawn hunting party, the harbour and buildings of Carthage and specific features including the bridge in the right foreground and the round buildings in the middle distance at left and at upper right. However, as Wilton remarks, the architectural detailing differs from the picture, the round temple at left here becoming a fortified tower and the bridge being transformed from a rustic structure to a grander Neoclassical one.2 Nicholson, in her discussion of Turner’s response to the Aeneid,3 observes that Turner’s interpretation of this subject was ‘as much [John] Dryden’s as Virgil’s’ and the ‘4th Book of Dryden’s Aeneis’ was Turner’s source for the quotation attached to his picture in the 1814 Academy catalogue: ‘The Queen, Aeneas, and the Tyrian Court | Shall to the shady woods for sylvan games resort’.

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.92–3 no.129 (pl.135).
Wilton in Wilton and Mallord Turner 1990, p.144.
Nicholson 1990, pp.276–91 and especially p.281.

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