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

Joseph Mallord William Turner Scarborough c.1825

J.M.W. Turner
Scarborough c.1825

Tate’s holdings of sketchbooks, drawings and watercolours by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) are among its greatest treasures. The vast majority of these, numbering approximately 37,500 accessioned works, came to the nation after Turner’s death as part of the Turner Bequest in 1856. These were first catalogued in A.J. Finberg’s A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, which appeared in 1909 and is essentially a handlist.

Tate is undertaking an ambitious revision of Finberg’s inventory and is also cataloguing works on paper by Turner acquired from other sources. Drawing upon a wealth of research conducted inside and outside the museum, Tate has begun to publish what will be a comprehensive catalogue of its holdings of Turner’s works on paper with accompanying essays, J.M.W. Turner: Drawings, Sketchbooks and Watercolours.

Written by Tate curators, conservators and researchers, as well as external specialists and visiting fellows, the catalogue entries comprise full bibliographies, exhibition histories, critical commentaries, and technical and conservation data on the media, materials and condition of the individual works. These texts incorporate a wealth of new discoveries. Many hitherto unidentified or misidentified subjects have been properly identified, and original inscriptions have been transcribed for the first time; works have also been redated in the light of new evidence. Providing extensive discussion of the different contexts, both historical and contemporary, in which Turner’s works can be seen, as well as access to a broad spectrum of critical discourse, the project aims to be of benefit to a diverse range of disciplines and interest groups, as well as to art historians and exhibition makers.

The project looks at Turner’s long career in terms of five periods: 

Within each, works are arranged chronologically and thematically, in groups related by date or subject (for example, those made on a tour of a particular region undertaken by Turner). Texts for each thematic grouping introduce the materials brought together within the grouping, discussing their subject, context and historical background. Within these groupings, sketchbooks have bespoke introductions and entries for each page, and all individual works have their own catalogue entries. Readers are able to search the collection by subject, date or theme, navigate easily between related works and texts, and access brief or detailed information about each work, as preferred.

The first tranche of entries was published in December 2012 and further tranches have been published since.


Thomas Ardill, Cataloguer
David Blayney Brown, Curator, 18th and 19th Century British Art
John Chu, Cataloguer
Andrea Fredericksen, Kress Fellow
Meredith Gamer, Kress Fellow
Professor David Hill, University of Leeds
Elizabeth Jacklin, Assistant Curator
Matthew Imms, Editor and Cataloguer
Quirine van der Meer Mohr, Researcher
Nicola Moorby, Cataloguer
Alice Rylance-Watson, Cataloguer
Caroline South, Cataloguer
Joyce H Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist
Maud Whatley, Cataloguer
Andrew Wilton, Senior Research Fellow
Interns: Lucy Roblin and Michal Goldschmidt

Project Information

Project type
Research project
Lead department
Tate Research
Project leader
David Blayney Brown, Curator, 18th and 19th Century British Art
Project team
Alex Cary, Digital Editor (Research)
Diane Hall, Database Architect
Mark Liebenrood, Digital Editor
Jennifer Mundy, Head of Art Historical Research
Alex Pilcher, Web Developer