Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study, possibly of military figures; 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 228 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27561
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 44

Catalogue entry

The subject of this hastily executed sketch appears to be a group of people underneath a dark mass of trees or sky. The touches of red and peach paint in the lower portion of this composition may represent a group of armed figures, while the background appears to be a forest scene. Although the composition is too vague to be conclusively linked to any finished watercolours, the work appears to be one of a group of more than thirty studies in the Turner Bequest related to Turner’s illustrations for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style.
The scene does bear some resemblance to another work in this group of unfinished studies (see Tate D27560; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 43).
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’.1 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’.2
1
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
2
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 an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 40 P | O’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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