Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figures in an Interior


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 79 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXCI c 1

Catalogue entry

It has been proposed that the sequence between here and folio 12 verso (D28886) ‘form a series of studies narrating an erotic adventure’ as distinct from other ‘studies on similar themes throughout the book’.1 There may be a case for extending or shortening this range slightly – Raphael Rosenberg has suggested that it ends at folio 11 recto (D28885),2 after the throes of passion – but in principle this seems likely, as some of the scenes are more conventionally pictorial and carefully defined by drawing with the brush (albeit sometimes sexually explicit) than the often rather rough, undeveloped washes later on.
Jack Lindsay has imagined them as ‘the record of an episode at an inn (on the Rhine, perhaps). A set of delightful little paintings show a servant-girl undressing, a couple tumbling in the large bed, compositions derived from their embraces, and what are almost pure effects of colour and light derived from the experience.’3 Rosenberg reads the present composition as possibly showing a bearded nobleman in the foreground and a lady at a window in the background, who may be the protagonists on subsequent pages.4 This is the most heavily worked of the sequence, with an Old Master-like subtlety of light chiaroscuro which the rest lack, although the figures remain rather unclear. Andrew Wilton has noted a particular similarity to the gouache studies of interiors Turner made at Petworth House in 1827 (Tate; Turner Bequest CCXLIV), and his subsequent interest in the chiaroscuro effects in Rembrandt’s work5 (see also the general Introduction to the present grouping).
For a discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see the Introduction.
Wilton 1974, p.126; see also Andrew Wilton in John Gage, Jerrold Ziff, Nicholas Alfrey and others, J.M.W. Turner, à l’occasion du cinquantième anniversaire du British Council, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris 1983, p.[239] under no.173.
See Rosenberg 2007, p.327 note 23.
Jack Lindsay, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work: A Critical Biography, London 1966, p.161.
See Wilton 1974, p.126.

Matthew Imms
May 2014

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