This work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches 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. Although the content is too vague to be firmly linked to any of the finished vignettes in the series, the tempestuous seascape, gathering storm and the figurative group in the right-hand corner suggest that it may be an early design for one of two illustrations: Lord Ullin’s Daughter, or O’Connor’s Child.
Campbell’s poem ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’, is a tragic tale of a heroine who drowns at sea during an attempt to elope with her secret lover. Turner’s finished watercolour (National Gallery of Scotland),1
depicts the ill-fated couple awaiting the ferry that will take them to their deaths, and this may also be the configuration represented in the study. In particular, the storm clouds amassing in the sky may reflect the following lines:
“O haste, thee haste!” the lady cries,
“Though tempests round us gather;
I’ll meet the raging of the skies;
But not an angry father.”
The boat has left a stormy land,
A stormy sea before her, –
When oh! too strong for human hand
The tempest gathered o’er her.
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, p.94)
There are a number of other works in the Turner Bequest that may also relate to Lord Ullin’s Daughter
(see Tate D27558
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 41, 63, 64, 71, 121). The palette, mood, and style of the study most closely resemble Tate D27580
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 63.
An alternative connection is that the study represents an early concept for an illustration to Campbell’s poem ‘O’Connor’s Child’. This too features a doomed relationship between the daughter of an Irish chieftain and her ‘basely born’ lover who is murdered by her brothers. Like other studies related to Turner’s final design and to the spirit of Campbell’s verse, the sombre, lonely seascape scene recalls the following lines:
Why lingers she from Erin’s host,
So far on Galway’s shipwreck’d coast;
Why wanders she a huntress wild –
O’Connor’s pale and lovely child?
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, p.68)
Five other vignette studies may also relate to O’Connor’s Child
. One of them shows the heroine and her lover just before they are captured by her murderous brothers (Tate D27575
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 58), and three others may be variations on the study seen here (see Tate D27557
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40, and 57, 59).
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’.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