Joseph Mallord William Turner

Design for a Classical Composition; Also Ships


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 189 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXI 4 a

Catalogue entry

At the bottom of the page is a design for a classical composition, perhaps copied from or loosely based on a painting. It depicts a harbour scene with a classical building at the left, several figures at the centre and ruins at the right.
It is possible that the tiny thumbnail sketch drawn at the top right of the page and inscribed ‘Gupion the French Painter of Marine’ is also a design for a picture. Ian Warrell has pointed out that this refers to the artist Théodore Gudin (1802–1880), and suggests that although there is no written account of the two artists meeting, the inscription may indicate that Turner had seen one of his works.1 Turner’s design (or copy of a painting) depicts two ships sailing at close quarters and perhaps engaged in battle. Although it is on a very small scale, it resembles some of the dramatic compositions of Gudin’s naval battle scenes. It is likely that the inscription therefore refers to this small design rather than the drawing on folio 5 (Tate D18532; Turner Bequest CCXI 5) opposite as Warrell has suggested. The image on that page is likely to be a sketch from life as it depicts a different view of a two-masted vessel with a smaller attending boat that Turner also drew on the present page with the book turned to the left. For a list of all Turner’s sketches of shipping in this sketchbook, see folio 1 (Tate D18525; Turner Bequest CCXI 1).

Thomas Ardill
March 2013

Warrell 1999, p.25.

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