Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study; for ?Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ or Rogers’s ‘Poems’

c.1835–6

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 178 x 227 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27585
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 68

Catalogue entry

This unfinished study appears to show an airborne form and a procession of figures set against a background of dark waters and feathery clouds. Although the subject is too vague to be conclusively linked to any of Turner’s finished vignette illustrations, the work may be one of a group of more than thirty watercolour studies in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preparatory sketches for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style.
Jan Piggott has suggested that the vignette could be a preparatory sketch for The Last Man circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland),1 an illustration which Turner produced for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works.2 However, the study shares the same palette and painting style as a work that has been tentatively identified by David Blayney Brown as a preliminary study for A Tempest, one of Turner’s designs for Rogers’s Poems (1834) (see Tate D27583; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 66). In light of these similarities, it seems possible that the study seen here is also related to Rogers’s Poems; in particular, it may be an experimental composition for Turner’s illustration The Landing of Columbus (see D27708; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 191).
The work once was part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.3 For an explanation of his meaning of ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes above. Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.4
1
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1282; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.60.
2
Piggott 1993, p.96.
3
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
4
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is made on off-white low-grade machine-made cartridge paper. The maker is unknown and there is no watermark. This paper would have been relatively cheap to buy and could have been purchased from a colourman, cut off from a roll to the desired size. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the paper which has slightly more texture than the ‘wire’ side, allowing better adhesion of pigment and graphite to the surface of the sheet. Many of Turner’s vignette studies were made on a similar grade of machine-made paper, and the artist employed the ‘felt’ side on all of them.1
1
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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