My name is David Pilling and I am the Archive Assistant Curator at Tate Archive. My job is a varied one but in the main I deal with photographic orders, loans, single items and various cataloguing projects. The item I have chosen to talk about, a model of ships in a glass case, was found in J.M.W. Turners bedroom at Queen Anne Street when he died in 1851. J.M.W.(Joseph Mallord William) Turner was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist, printer and oil painter. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest masters of British watercolour landscape painting, and his work is considered to be a Romantic preface to Impressionism. Turner was almost certainly in possession of this model by the time he was living at Sandycombe Lodge in 1812–13, or at least by the time he left there in 1826, since F.E. Trimmer – the son of the Reverend Scott Trimmer, Vicar of Heston, who was one of Turner’s best and most intimate friends until his death -remembered them there as several models of ships in glass cases, to which Turner had painted a sea and a background. It is not known at which date Turner was using the models specifically, or how he acquired them. The group comprises three luggers and a small three-masted, square-rigged sloop. There is a possibility that the ships in the model are based on unusual French military design, and were perhaps the work of a captured French sailor. This item forms part of a collection of studio equipment used by Turner which is held at Tate Archive along with three palettes, one paint box and two wooden equipment cases, many of which are on display in the Clore Gallery which houses the Tate’s Turner collection. This piece is of specific interested to me because it highlights the processes that artists go through to make their paintings, in this case using models of items to work to the correct perspective. Turner used this model to aid his painting technique – compare this to contemporary artists such as David Hockney’s use of iPhone apps – do you think either method is valid?
Written by David Pilling