Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies for Classical Compositions


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 257 × 178 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCII 30 a

Catalogue entry

With the sketchbook turned upside down relative to the foliation, Turner has divided the sheet to accommodate what appear to be five separate pencil sketches: three at the upper register, a fourth composition extending across the middle register, and the final drawing at the bottom right. Turner scholars Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage write that the first three sketches possibly depict Greenwich Park with London in the distance beyond.1
Relative to other classical compositions in this sketchbook, the large sketch beneath has been well worked, clearly depicting some sort of narrative within an antique setting. Porticoes, arches, freestanding columns, and pylons provide a complex backdrop to a procession of figures. The slumped, stooping postures of the central group seem to resemble a mourning scene.
The final, rather curious drawing on this sheet is in the bottom right corner of the page, boxed in with a pencil outline. Possibly a nocturne or interior scene, Turner has shaded the whole of the composition with the exception of a set of steps left in negative paper. The vague profiles of what seem to be figures have been rubbed out of the pencil shading. Andrew Wilton suggests that the motif in a later and much larger drawing of a gloomy architectural interior with figures (D36089; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 243) may trace back to this present sketch.2 This proposal is questionable given the disparity between their relative sizes and the paucity of narrative detail in the present drawing in comparison to the other.

Alice Rylance-Watson
March 2013

Butlin, Wilton and Gage 1974, p.96, no.260.
Wilton 1975, p.120, no.189.

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