Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Sleeping Woman, Perhaps Mrs Booth


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 94 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 269

Catalogue entry

Anthony Bailey first suggested without further comment1 that this delicate study represents Sophia Caroline Booth (1798–1875), Turner’s companion in later years after she was widowed in 1833.2 She had been the artist’s landlady on his regular visits to Margate in Kent; see the section of Margate and related subjects from about 1829 onwards elsewhere in the present catalogue, and the Introductions there to the Marine Dabblers sketchbook (Tate; Tuner Bequest CCXLI) and the subsection of sea and shore views from the vicinity of Mrs Booth’s house.
Ian Warrell has described the work’s ‘tone’ as ‘modest, domestic even’, and in dating it as likely from the 1830s he has concurred with Bailey’s proposal.3 Warrell has suggested that ‘some of the erotic sketches of Turner’s last twenty years were stimulated by his intimacy’4 with Mrs Booth. The presentation of a woman, apparently reclining in bed with her breasts exposed, may consciously or unconsciously echo the well-known, more overtly erotic subjects of Matthew William Peters (1742–1814) such as his painting Lydia of about 1777 (Tate T04848), a version of which had been engraved in 1776. Turner may have had a more explicit presentation in mind here; although the detail fades off towards the right, it is possible that the woman’s left hand rests on a lightly indicated knee, suggesting that the left leg is drawn up, while the dark red folds of what at first glance seem to be bedclothes at the top right might, again consciously or not, have anatomical significance.
See Bailey 1997, p.xiii.
See John Gere, Booth, Sophia Caroline’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.28–9.
Warrell 2003, p.23; see also Warrell 2012, p.126.
Warrell 2012, p.126.
Blank; inscribed in pencil ‘ccclxiv 269’ bottom left; stamped in black with Turner Bequest monogram over ‘CCCLXIV – 269’ bottom right.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop