J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Vignette Study for Moore's 'The Epicurean'; The Grotto of the Anchoret c.1837-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; The Grotto of the Anchoret circa 1837–8
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 126
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 115 x 80 mm on three-ply laminated Foolscap Bristol drawing board, 380 x 292 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘126’ bottom right
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CCLXXX’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 126’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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 work appears to be an experimental study for Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean and Jan Piggott has identified the subject as the grotto of the Christian anchoret (hermit), a kindly soul who converts and marries the hero, Alciphron, to his love, the former pagan priestess, Alethe. Turner illustrates the moment where the hermit ushers Alciphron to a cave where he can find shelter, and the lovers are temporarily parted:
The full light of day had now risen upon the desert, and our host, reminded, by the faint looks of Alethe, of the many anxious hours we had passed without sleep, proposed that we should seek, in the chambers of the rock, such rest as a hermit’s dwelling could offer. Pointing to one of the largest of these openings, as he addressed me, – “Thou wilt find”, he said, “in that grotto a bed ...” ... There was a sadness in the countenance of Alethe, as I took leave of her, to which the forebodings of my own heart but too faithfully responded; not could I help fearing, as her hand parted lingeringly from mine, that I had, by this sacrifice, placed her beyond my reach for ever ... Having lighted for me a lamp ... the holy man led me to the entrance of the grotto ... I then, with a desponding spirit, hurried into the cavern.
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, pp.166–7)
Despite the schematic nature of the work, Turner effectively captures the mood of Moore’s writing. The tall, shadowy figure of the hermit, the graceful poise of Alethe as she bids a tender, reluctant farewell to Alciphron, and the mouth of the cave illuminated by the rich glow from the lantern inject a sense of poignant romance to this little scene. However, like many of Turner’s studies for The Epicurean, the subject was not selected for publication. Moore may have objected to the artist’s departure from the facts of the text; in the story, the episode takes place at noon, not at night.
Technical notes:
Like many of Turner’s studies for Moore’s The Epicurean, this sketch has been made on three-ply Bristol board, a type of board sold by most artists’ colourmen. The support exhibits three watermarks, ‘Slade | 1836’, and a circular blind embossed stamp, ‘Bristol | [image of crown] | Board’ top left. The board has been laminated with handmade paper which has been trimmed to Foolscap size (nominally 15 x 12 inches). Peter Bower has identified the maker as the William & Thomas Slade Mill, the papermakers who succeeded William Allee at Hurstbourne Priors Mill in Hampshire.1
Bower 1999, pp.120–1; for a general technical discussion of nineteenth century boards see ibid., pp.114–17.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘124 | a’ centre right and ‘AB 117 P | M’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 126’ bottom left [partially pasted to mount]

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Revised by Nicola Moorby
August 2008

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; The Grotto of the Anchoret c.1837–8 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, revised by Nicola Moorby, August 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-vignette-study-for-moores-the-epicurean-the-grotto-of-the-r1133842, accessed 25 June 2018.