In the 1800s, Turner’s experience of the River Thames west of London, with grand neo-classical houses in picturesque wooded settings, had often evoked spontaneous studies for the historical or mythological compositions of the sort he painted on a large scale.1 Kathleen Nicholson has noted that the ‘image of the ancient cityscape was incredibly tenacious, appearing in sketches and drawings that date from every period in Turner’s career.’2 The sequence of busy studies here, made with the page turned vertically, recall the seaport scenes of Claude Lorrain (1604/5–1682), and Turner’s own painted interpretations of the theme.3
The three sketches show permutations of classical buildings, trees, shipping, and foregrounds crowded with figures. The top one appears to be labelled ‘Fall’, and is perhaps a recapitulation of The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817 (Tate N00499),4 with its low sun and heaped-up townscape. The other two also bear brief notations, likely to indicate specific subjects which are difficult to make out.
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993; see also Ian Warrell in Warrell, Blandine Chavanne and Michael Kitson, Turner et le Lorrain, exhibition catalogue, Musée des beaux-arts, Nancy 2002, p.194.
Nicholson 1990, p.252.
See Ian Warrell and others, Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2012.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.100–1 no.135, pl.137 (colour).