Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Curtained Bed, with Naked Reclining Figures


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 79 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXCI c 11

Catalogue entry

It has been proposed that the sequence between folios 1 recto and 12 verso (D28874–D28886) ‘form a series of studies narrating an erotic adventure’ as distinct from other ‘studies on similar themes throughout the book’.1 There may be a case for extending or shortening this range slightly – Raphael Rosenberg has suggested that it ends here,2 after the throes of passion – but in principle this seems likely, as some of the scenes are more conventionally pictorial and carefully defined by drawing with the brush (albeit sometimes sexually explicit) than the often rather rough, undeveloped washes later on. Jack Lindsay has imagined them as ‘the record of an episode at an inn (on the Rhine, perhaps). A set of delightful little paintings show a servant-girl undressing, a couple tumbling in the large bed, compositions derived from their embraces, and what are almost pure effects of colour and light derived from the experience.’3
Whatever Turner’s overall idea may have been, here the figures appear to rest in a curtained bed after the exertions depicted on folio 10 recto (D28884). The initial washes have been worked over with pencil, though without serving greatly to clarify the couple’s anatomy. The woman reclines with her head thrown back to the right and her left arm hanging down; the man appears to be on his front at the left, although the relationship of the head at the centre to his body appears somewhat disjointed; Gerald Wilkinson described the subject as ‘neither well-conceived nor well drawn.’4
For a discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see the Introduction.
Wilton 1974, p.126; see also Andrew Wilton in John Gage, Jerrold Ziff, Nicholas Alfrey and others, J.M.W. Turner, à l’occasion du cinquantième anniversaire du British Council, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris 1983, p.[239] under no.173.
See Rosenberg 2007, p.327 note 23.
Lindsay 1966, p.161.
Wilkinson 1975, p.77.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

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