Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Naked Woman Sitting with her Arm Raised


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Support: 113 × 89 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXLI 51 a

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, a seated naked woman is seen from the right, with her right arm outstretched. The economical, fragmentary figure is defined by colour alone, with the barely modulated pink enhanced by touches of white along the arm, hip and thigh. The limbs fade out without indications of feet, and the head is an undeveloped silhouette, suggesting that the face is turned away. In his study of Turner’s erotica, Ian Warrell has observed that this ‘could equally be a standard Life Class pose, or something more informal’.1
Earlier in his career, Turner had sometimes worked in sketchbooks with their pages prepared with grey or brown washes, over which he would work in darker and lighter tones of pencil and chalk in a consciously Old Master-like way (sometimes in actual copies of Old Master paintings); figure studies in this manner include Susanna Bathing, after a Rembrandt Follower in the 1802 Studies in the Louvre sketchbook (Tate D04355; Turner Bequest LXXII 61). Although he did not try colour elsewhere in the present book, which includes papers of various pastel shades as well as white, he presumably chose to work in pink against the strong green here as an experiment in chromatic contrast. A reproduction of the figure as a silhouette without its green background, set in isolation against white,2 has inadvertently demonstrated by omission how the colours of the page and gouache activate each other.
See also the potentially erotic interior scene on folio 79 verso (D22554).

Matthew Imms
May 2014

Warrell 2003, p.23.
Warrell 2003, front cover; many other British Art Journal covers include objects or details of works presented in this way.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop