Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’, for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’

c.1835–6

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 179 x 227 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27581
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 64

Catalogue entry

This watercolour has been identified by Jan Piggott as a preliminary study for Lord Ullin’s Daughter,1 a vignette illustration for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works, circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland).2 The design was engraved by Robert Wallis and accompanies Campbell’s poem of the same title.3 The verses tell a tragic tale of a heroine who drowns at sea during an attempt to elope with her secret lover. Turner’s finished watercolour depicts the ill-fated couple awaiting the ferry that will take them to their deaths. This study echoes the basic composition of the finished design, which also shows a body of water framed by steep land formations and crowned by a high full moon. However, the absence of any human figures suggests that the artist may have been deliberately focusing on the backdrop. There are a number of other studies in the Turner Bequest that may relate to Lord Ullin’s Daughter (see Tate D27557, D27558, D27580, D27588, D27638; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40, 41, 63, 71, 121).
The work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolours in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preparatory studies for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This sketch was once part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.4 For an explanation of his meaning for ‘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’.5
1
Piggott 1993, p.96.
2
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1280; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.59.
3
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.622. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04774).
4
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
5
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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