Joseph Mallord William Turner

?A Study for a Classical River or Seaport Composition


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 188 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Not mentioned in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory,1 this slight sketch, made with the page turned vertically, at the top is a loose sketch of a port or river scene with buildings on the right and masts or trees on both sides, with the disk of a low sun to the left of the centre. Figures may be indicated in the foreground. It may be a spontaneous sketch in the manner of Turner’s harbour scenes influenced by Claude Lorrain (c.1604–1682), such as the painting The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817 (Tate N00499).2
In the 1800s, Turner’s experience of the Thames around Richmond, with grand neo-classical houses in picturesque wooded settings, had often evoked spontaneous studies for the historical or mythological compositions of the sort he painted on a large scale;3 the Thameside sketches of the classical Pavilion at Isleworth and nearby Syon House on the recto (D18652) may have led to similar thoughts here. Compare the watercolour on folio 20 recto (D18623), possibly a capriccio of Richmond Bridge.

Matthew Imms
December 2014

See A.J. Finberg, A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London 1909, vol.II, p.647.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.

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