Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study; for ?‘The Field of Waterloo’ for Scott’s ‘Life of Napoleon’

c.1834

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

Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 171 x 202 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27590
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 73

Catalogue entry

Jan Piggott has tentatively identified this loose vignette sketch as a preliminary study for The Field of Waterloo. From the Picton Tree circa 1833 (private collection),1 a watercolour illustration which Turner produced for Scott’s Prose Works (1834–6).2 The design, which was engraved by William Miller, was published as the frontispiece to volume XVI, ‘Life of Napoleon’ (1835).3 The house-like structure in the foreground of the study, and the storm sweeping across the ominous sky broadly resemble features of the final work. Although the oval composition and vanishing borders of the study indicate that the illustration was initially conceived as a vignette, the finished design appeared in a conventional landscape format.
If this scene does indeed illustrate the Field of Waterloo, Piggott has noted that the architectural feature in the foreground can therefore be identified as La Haye Sainte, the farmhouse which played a key strategic in the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Turner himself visited the site in 1817 and took notes in a sketchbook regarding the topography and the relative positions of the protagonists (see for example, the Waterloo and Rhine sketchbook, Tate D12740; Turner Bequest CLX 21).
The study also appears to relate to a large group of experimental studies that Turner produced in connection with his illustrations for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works. It is made on the same low-quality paper and in the same loose style as many of the other works in this group (for a more detailed discussion see Tate D27556; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 39).
1
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1116.
2
Piggott 1993, p.96.
3
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.539.
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 was inferior to standard drawing papers. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the sheet 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

Revised by Nicola Moorby
August 2008

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