Joseph Mallord William Turner

First Sketch for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 902 × 1213 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This sketch and the one next to it were made in preparation for Turner’s first and only royal commission, a huge painting to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar (currently exhibited in Turner and the Masters). In this design, Turner is plotting the relative positions of the boats, with Nelson’s Victory dominating the scene. The composition at this stage was very static. The more dynamic final work was to be criticised by naval officers for its inaccuracy.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

250. [N05480] First Sketch for ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ c. 1822–3


Canvas, 35 3/4 × 47 1/2 (91 × 120·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (16, ‘Companion to ditto [Battle of Trafalgar, see No, 251 [N00556]]’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 158.

In the 1856 copy of the Schedule, Wornum annotated no. 16 as ‘unfinished’. This is the first oil sketch for the large picture begun in 1823 for George IV, No. 252; for a second, more detailed sketch see No. 251.[N00556] In this picture, there are no figures in the sea in the foreground and the Victory is seen slightly from the rear rather than approaching. The sails are also different, as is the placing of the other ships. However, as in the second sketch, the composition is closed on the right by a ship seen stern on.

There are paint losses in the top right-hand corner and to a lesser extent in small areas elsewhere.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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