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This sketch belongs to a large group of preliminary studies which relate to Turner’s vignette illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. The study shares the same size, palette, and style as nine other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27630; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 113).
Jan Piggott has identified the subject as an experimental study for an alternative design of The Chaplet, circa 1838 (untraced),1 one of four vignettes that Turner produced for Moore’s fantastical prose tale The Epicurean.2 The finished watercolour, engraved by Edward Goodall, depicts Orcus, the evil High Priest of Memphis, forcing the heroine, Alethe, to wear a poisoned coral chaplet which will eventually claim her life.3 This theatrical sketch may represent an alternative version showing the dark figure of Orcus working his evil magic.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.456, no.1301.
Piggott 1993, p.96; Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem, London 1839, reproduced between pp.206–7.
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 82 P | M’ bottom left, descending left-hand edge
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