Joseph Mallord William Turner

Full-length Study of the Fighting Gladiator

c.1791

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 480 x 302 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D40219

Technique and condition

This is a double-sided graphite pencil drawing dating from Turner’s time as an art student at the Royal Academy. The sheet is a hand-made cream coloured wove paper. The right-hand edge of the recto is deckled, which means that this was the outer edge of a larger handmade sheet, now cut down. The bottom edge has been very unevenly cut. These are early drawings and the style is linear and tentative. The outline of the figures was drawn first. The block shading used on the verso was then added afterwards by smudging chalk dust to create soft, solid areas of shading.
Heavy surface dirt is evident on both recto and verso of the work. There is severe oil-based staining (possibly linseed oil since he used it for all colours of paint, even white and pale blue, in contrast to the received wisdom of using walnut or poppy oil which yellow less and give less of a colour cast to the paint) along the bottom of the sheet. This was probably caused by the sheet having been stored in the artist’s studio for a considerable period. There is also a rust coloured adhesion (to a neighbouring sheet of paper) in the centre of the recto. These stains constitute part of the history of the sheet and would not be considered for conservation treatment to reduce their impact, even if they obscured the drawing more than they in fact do.
There are several tears along both the top and bottom edges of the sheet and at some point these were repaired using pressure sensitive tape on the verso. This tape – not unexpectedly since it is a poor choice of material for repairing paper – degraded over time, and damaged the paper by making it discolour to brown. In 2008 the tape and its adhesive were removed and the tears were repaired again using Japanese tissue, toned to match the present colour of the undamaged though somewhat dirty paper, and adhered in place with wheat starch paste.

Helen Evans
June 2009

Revised by Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

Like the drawing on the recto (D00068; Turner Bequest V P), this is an outline study, though here Turner has amplified it by using a stump to create areas of tone. There are stump trials to the left of the image. For other studies of the Borghese Gladiator see Tate D00069, D00070 and D00071 (Turner Bequest V R, Q, S).
The recto of this sheet is D00068 (Turner Bequest V P).

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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