Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Courtyard of Somerset House from the Royal Academy

1811

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 75 x 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08378
Turner Bequest CXXIII 9

Catalogue entry

The view is from what was then the Royal Academy’s library and ante-room,1 looking across to the south side of the courtyard of Somerset House, London. The room is now part of the Courtauld Gallery. The dark figure at the bottom left, partly obscured by the stamped Turner Bequest number, is John Bacon’s bronze statue of George III in the courtyard, set before a balustraded semi-circular well.2 Turner’s note ‘7’ refers to the number of bays articulating one section of the building’s southern range.
The right-hand side of the sketch appears unresolved, but may indicates a figure looking out towards a parrot or similar bird in a cage, apparently suspended or resting on the balustrade to the right outside the room allocated to the Academy’s Keeper,3 at that time (from 1804 to 1825) the painter Henry Fuseli.4 He was by many contemporary accounts eccentric,5 although there seems to be no record of his keeping birds.
Finberg was able to bracket the 1811 West Country tour on which this sketchbook was used between Turner’s attendances of Royal Academy Council meetings on Thursday 11 July and Monday 7 October6 (see the introduction to the tour). Given its position towards the beginning of the book, this drawing was perhaps made on the first occasion.

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See plan in Bickerdicke Allen Partners, A Study of Somerset House as a Turner Centre, London 1979, p.[29]; see also Sidney C. Hutchison, The History of the Royal Academy 1768–1986, London 1986, pp.47, 48.
2
Compare Susan Jenkins, ‘The External Decoration of Somerset House: And the Documentary Sources’, British Art Journal, vol.2, no.2, Winter 2000/2001, p.25 fig.8.
3
Andrew Potter (Research Assistant, Royal Academy Library), email correspondence with the author, 8 July 2008, Tate catalogue files.
4
Hutchison 1986, p.267.
5
See for example selected accounts in Robert Wraight, Hip! Hip! R.A. An Unofficial Book for the Royal Academy’s Bicentenary 10th December 1968, London 1968, pp.74–8.
6
Alexander J. Finberg, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Second Edition, Revised, with a Supplement, by Hilda F. Finberg, revised ed., Oxford 1961, pp.182, 183.

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