Joseph Mallord William Turner

Full-length Study of the Vatican Discobolus


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 480 × 302 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest V P

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 hand-made 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

This is presumably an unfinished outline study; see also the outline drawing on the verso (D40219), which has added tone applied with the stump. In the present case, the subject was outlined in faint pencil before being strengthened with chalk, or possibly a softer pencil. The Discobolus is one of the most famous works of Greek sculpture from the fifth century BC, the bronze original by Myron being known by several Roman copies in marble; one is in the Vatican Museum, Rome; another, acquired in Italy by Charles Townley, was acquired as part of Townley’s collection by the British Museum, London. Another drawing of the Discobolus, made later in Turner’s time at the Plaister Academy, is Tate D00067 (Turner Bequest V O).
Technical notes:
The white wove paper bears the watermark ‘J WHATMAN’. This paper, frequently used by Turner, was made by James Whatman at his Turkey Mill, Maidstone, Kent. Peter Bower suggests that the sheet was probably from the same batch as Tate D00065 (Turner Bequest V M), also from this series of studies after the Antique. The edges of the sheet have been damaged by the use of Scotch tape.

Andrew Wilton
April 2012

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