Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study of Storm at Sea, for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’

c.1835–6

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

Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 181 x 227 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27568
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 51

Catalogue entry

This rough watercolour vignette is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches in the Turner Bequest which have been identified as preliminary studies for Campbell’s Poetical Works, published by Edward Moxon in 1837. The turbulent seascape does not appear to directly relate to any of Turner’s finished designs. However, it is painted in the same palette and style as another study (see Tate D27558; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 41), which is probably a preliminary design for either The Andes Coast or Lord Ullin’s Daughter circa 1835 (both National Gallery of Scotland).1 The similarities between these two studies suggest that they were drawn around the same time, probably for the same project. For a general discussion of sketches related to The Andes Coast, see Tate D27524; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 7.
All of the studies related to Campbell’s Poetical Works are painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This work was part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.2 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’.3
1
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, nos.1272 and 1280; reproduced incolour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, pp.55 and 59.
2
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
3
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.
Verso:
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘AB 40 P | O’ bottom right and ‘D27568’ bottom left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry