This sketch belongs to a large group of preliminary studies which relate to Turner’s vignette illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem
. The study shares the same size, palette, and style as nine other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27630
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 113).
The evocative vignette illustrates a scene in Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean and depicts the famed lighthouse of Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once found near the port of Eunostus in Alexandria. The design appears to reflect the description of the hero, Alciphron’s first moments in the great Egyptian city:
... and at length, as the morning freshly broke, we saw the beautiful city of Alexandria rising from the sea ... we shot rapidly round the Rock of Pharos, and, in a few minutes, found ourselves in the harbour of Eunostus. The sun had risen, but the light on the Great Tower of the Rock was still burning; and there was a languor in the first waking movements of that voluptuous city – whose houses and temples lay shining in silence around the harbour
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, pp.15–16)
Turner’s design, with its pastel palette and delicate lighting, provides an elegant rendering of Moore’s description of the harbour at dawn. However, like many of his studies for The Epicurean, the subject was never developed into a finished illustration.
There is another possible vignette sketch of the same subject (see Tate D27594
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 77).