Joseph Mallord William Turner

Composition Sketch: Lake Avernus with Aeneas and the Sibyl


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 542 × 382 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LI N

Catalogue entry

Turner’s authorship of this drawing has been doubted. It has been identified as the sketch that Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758–1838) supplied to the artist as a basis for the oil painting of the subject that Turner executed about 1798 (Tate N00463).1 But it seems, in fact, to be by Turner himself, after a sketch by Colt Hoare. John Gage suggests that the subject was intended as a substitute for Wilson’s Lake Nemi, which Colt Hoare had acquired thinking that it represented Avernus.2 In the event, Turner’s picture did not enter Colt Hoare’s collection, and as Kathleen Nicholson points out,3 there is no direct evidence that it was executed as the result of a commission.
Finberg records that this sheet was numbered 463 in the original series of Turner Bequest drawings displayed by the National Gallery, and ‘now [i.e. 1909] on loan to Stockport Museum’.4 However, the drawing does not appear in any of John Ruskin’s notes on selections from the Turner Bequest;5 and Finberg gives the same number to Turner’s sepia drawing for the Bridge and Goats plate in the Liber Studiorum (Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R). It seems unlikely that the present subject would have been selected for exhibition, as it is uncharacteristic and somewhat clumsy, betraying its origin as a copy from an amateur drawing.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.24–5 no.34, pl.50 (colour).
See Gage 1974, pp.38–40.
See Nicholson 1990, p.32.
Finberg 1909, I, p.130.
See E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn eds., Library Edition: The Works of John Ruskin: Volume XIII: Turner: The Harbours of England; Catalogues and Notes, London 1904.
Technical notes:
The sheet has been folded vertically down the centre.
Blank; not stamped (formerly laid down)

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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