Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Curtained Bed, with the Entwined Legs and Feet of a Man and Woman


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and ink on paper
Support: 77 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXCI b 45 a

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, this pencil sketch reinforced with ink outlines is perhaps the most light-hearted of the bedroom scenes in this sketchbook, many of which are obscure, with a secretive, guilty air as figures loom half-formed out of dark watercolour washes. In discussing Turner’s erotica in the context of the traditional idea that the bedroom scenes in this sketchbook might have a connection with Turner’s leisurely stays at Petworth House in Sussex (see the Introduction), Andrew Wilton has suggested that in this case ‘Turner was in a position to draw couples enjoying sexual intercourse, as opposed to inventing such scenes. But the context may be a brothel rather than a country house.’1
The entwined male and female legs and feet disappearing behind tumbling curtains or bedclothes suggest the lovers through visual synecdoche, with the extremities expressing the activities of the otherwise concealed bodies in a manner most famously employed by the satirical printmaker James Gillray (1757–1815) in his 1792 engraving Fashionable Contrasts; or the Duchess’s Little Shoe yielding to the Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot (hand-coloured impression in the British Museum, London); the Duchess of York’s bejewelled, pointed footwear is (probably fortuitously) echoed in the elegant slippers worn by Turner’s woman in contrast to the larger feet of the man, bare in this case. There is an elegant oval bedroom mirror in the background.
For a discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see the Introduction.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

Wilton 2006, p.153 note 31; see also pp.119–20.

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