The subject of this unusual small-scale oil painting on ‘tracing paper’1 is unclear, as is its purpose. It was possibly used to try out a grouping of figures for a larger painting in process. Compare Tate D36262 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 395), another small painting on paper of a group of elegant nudes; it has been proposed that the latter actually spent some years pasted onto a finished painting of The Golden Bough, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834 (Tate N00371).2
The figures here are likely to be classical, and possibly intended as the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus in Greek mythology. Turner had drawn a classical sarcophagus with a group showing them in the 1819 Vatican Fragments sketchbook (Tate D15116; Turner Bequest CLXXX 6a). The most renowned post-classical version representation is the sculpture produced by the Italian Antonio Canova (1757–1822) between 1814 and 1817 for the Duke of Bedford (Victoria and Albert Museum, London and National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh).3
The date assigned here is notional, based on Finberg’s placing of the work after about 1830 and comparison with D36262, which may be from 1834.
As described in Finberg 1909, II, p.1210.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.204–5 no.355, pl.359 (colour).
See ‘The Three Graces’, Victoria and Albert Museum, accessed 21 September 2016, http://www
.vam. .ac .uk /content /articles /t /the -three -graces /
The sheet was trimmed somewhat irregularly. Finberg described it as ‘torn and defaced’,1 and the surface is rather rubbed. Four fragments of paint noted as ‘formerly stuck to the picture, obscuring it’ have been preserved, stuck to the bottom right of the backing sheet.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1210.
Blank; backed with modern tissue paper.