Joseph Mallord William Turner

?A Dark Cliff with Numerous Figures

c.1799–1805

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk on paper
Dimensions
Support: 436 × 271 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D04934
Turner Bequest LXXXI 33

Catalogue entry

Finberg considered this drawing, inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, to be a study for ‘a sea–piece’.1 It has features in common with the extremely slight sketch on folios 19 verso–20 recto (D04939–D04940); Turner Bequest LXXXI 38–39 (D04939–D04949), which Turner’s own note informs us is an idea for the subsequent painting Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812 (Tate N00490).2
Another possible interpretation is that it is a preliminary idea for the large canvas of the Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen, shown at the Academy in 1806 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston):3 the towering rock, the chute of foaming water and the clutter of figures, including a broad–brimmed straw hat typical of Swiss peasant costume, are all at least tentatively identifiable here. But the drawing is extremely hard to interpret, and may in fact consist of two separate ideas superimposed one on the other. Some of the white chalk marks seem to indicate a horizontal composition, while the mass of figures at the bottom of the subject, perhaps struggling in water, can only make sense if the composition is upright.
The verso (D04935; Turner Bequest LXXXI 34), contains two subjects superimposed in a similar though much more intelligible way.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

1
Finberg 1909, I, p.214.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.88–90 no.126, pl.131 (colour).
3
Ibid., pp.48–9 no.61, pl.72 (colour).

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