Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study possibly for ‘The Waterfall’, for ‘Gertrude of Wyoming’, Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’

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: 179 x 226 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27587
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 70

Catalogue entry

This unfinished watercolour sketch of a wooded landscape with a lake has been identified by Jan Piggott as an experimental study for the vignettes that Turner designed for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works.1 He has tentatively linked the trees, distant lake and plunging forms on the left with The Waterfall circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland), one of two finished illustrations that Turner provided for the poem ‘Gertrude of Wyoming’.2 Despite the formal similarities however, the vivid vermilion sky of this otherwise nondescript sketch is quite different from the cool tones of the final piece.
The study is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches 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. In its size, format and degree of finish, this study particularly resembles another work in this group that probably relates to Lord Ullin’s Daughter (see Tate D27581; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 64). In both cases, the absence of human figures suggests that the studies were designed as experimental backdrops for the finished vignettes.
The work was once 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
Piggott 1993, p.96.
2
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1284; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.61.
3
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
4
Finberg 1909, 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

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like