Joseph Mallord William Turner

Perspective Floor Plan of a Large Room with Ionic Columns


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 280 × 405 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 155

Catalogue entry

This faint, provisional drawing sets out a classical floor plan, receding steeply to a vanishing point beyond the top edge. Whether it is an attempt to represent an existing space or an exercise in architectural composition is as yet undetermined. It appears to represent a symmetrical rectangular space focused on the shallow curved apse at the far end, with flanking clusters of columns in the foreground (as suggested by the note ‘Center’ at the near end), or it may be part of a wider space, as the left-hand side as drawn is not enclosed by an indication of a colonnade matching that at the right. It is also unclear whether the horizontal line below is simply a working base line or representing a notional wall. The vertical lines extending across the full height of the sheet near the centre and towards the right are aligned with those on a related drawing (Tate D17128; Turner Bequest CXCV 157), where the columns indicated by the criss-crossed circular elements on the right are shown receding in perspectivally rendered space.
The unresolved nature of this drawing is also shown by the inclusion of a freehand view of a voluted Ionic capital within the plan towards the top left, and the elevation of a cornice towards the top right. At the bottom right is a faint, unrelated freehand drawing, which appears to be inverted relative to the diagram and to show a reclining medieval or Tudor tomb effigy (with the head to the right and legs to the left) and the lower part of a wall plaque. Compare the cursory treatment of the effigy noted inside Ewenny Priory in the 1795 Smaller South Wales sketchbook (Tate D00472; Turner Bequest XXV 11).
Turner gained a thorough early grounding in the classical orders and perspective during his time working under the architectural draughtsman Thomas Malton, perhaps between the middle of 1789 and the end of 1791.1 Although these the present work and the related D17128 have been placed in a subsection alongside the diagrams closely associated with Turner’s work as the Royal Academy’s Professor of Perspective and dated accordingly in line with the broadest span allocated by Andrea Fredericksen in her entries for other sheets from Turner Bequest section CXCV, it is possible given the 1797 watermarks, their hesitant manner and uncertain purpose, that they may date from considerably earlier. Although the tomb sketch here appears to be Turner’s, given the necessarily anonymous character of this undistinguished exercise it may even be possible that the architectural elements are not by him, and that the sheets somehow came into his possession as a casual gift or having caught his eye when discarded elsewhere.
As reasoned by Eric Shanes, Young Mr Turner: The First Forty Years: 1775–1815, New Haven and London 2016, p.20.
Bower 1990, p.111 note 6.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

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