As first recognised by Jerrold Ziff,1 this sheet contains four variant studies for the large painting Dido Directing the Equipment of the Fleet, or The Morning of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 (Tate N00506);2 see the Introduction to this subsection for the subject and other studies.
The sheet used here was a letter, confined to the other side (Tate D40313) and dated and postmarked in November 1827; the painting was shown in the following spring. Turner has used the basic matrix of the letter’s folds as four ready-made ‘frames’, drawing two designs each on the upper and lower halves, working out from the centre. The third composition down from the torn end is relatively closest to that of the painting, and all four display permutations of a familiar repertoire of classical seaport motifs. To the left of the tree in each case is a turreted tower which echoes those in two related studies on blue paper (Tate D20818, D24846; Turner Bequest CCXXVII a 15, CCLX 10), possibly made when Turner was staying at John Nash’s mock-medieval East Cowes Castle in the late summer of 1827. At this stage Turner still seems to have intended to echo that building’s style in his composition, but the elaborate tower at the equivalent point in the painting is classical, in keeping with the rest of the scene.
The sheet was torn upon opening the letter noted above, with irregular losses at the top edge and centre. The ink from the closely written text has bled through on the lower half.
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