Joseph Mallord William Turner

Composition Study: A Stormy Woodland Scene


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 95 × 135 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XL 8 a

Catalogue entry

An oil sketch of the same composition is Tate D02380 (Turner Bequest LI M).1 The prostrate figure to the left is studied in more detail on folio 73 recto (D01585; Turner Bequest XL 73). Finberg suggests this is a ‘sketch for historical composition: perhaps one of the Plagues of Egypt’.2 Butlin and Joll note that the various figures indicated here do not appear in the oil sketch, which shows only the supine man on the left. They also cite the present author as suggesting that the subject of the oil study is Pyramus and Thisbe.3 Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe of about 1651 (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main) by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) was in England during Turner’s lifetime, and will in any case have been familiar to him from an engraving by J.B.C. Chatelain (1710–1758).
It is worth noting that the whole of this slight but stormy composition is vaguely reminiscent of the famous picture of The Destruction of the Children of Niobe (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven) by Richard Wilson (1713–1782), engraved by William Woollett in 1761. The figures crouched under the tree, the distant peak and the stormy atmosphere are all features of Wilson’s picture, and the isolated, apparently dead, body in Turner’s drawing is close to one of the dead children of Niobe.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.25 no.34a, pl.30.
Finberg 1909, I, p.94.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.25.
Technical notes:
There are adventitious spots of oil paint.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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