Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Classical Composition


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 129 × 205 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXIX 3

Catalogue entry

This quite slight outline is the first of a group of composition studies, perhaps of a classical seaport crowded with figures in the manner of Claude Lorrain. Further variations on the verso and folios 4–6 (D10346–D10350) develop the idea with more figures, architecture or trees. A statue on a pedestal, as seen here on the left, is a recurrent motif. Although these compositions are quite different, they may have some connection with Turner’s preparations for his picture The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (Tate N00499)1 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817. There are drawings for it in the Yorkshire 1 sketchbook (Tate D11032, D11034; Turner Bequest CXLIV 101a, 102a) and perhaps also in the Hastings to Margate sketchbook (Tate D10555; Turner Bequest CXL 73a). Both these sketchbooks show some overlap with the present one, having also been used at Farnley Hall or along the south coast.

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, New Haven and London, revised ed. 1984, pp.89–90 no.135 (pl.119).

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