Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Helmets and Weapons for the Title Page of ‘Views in Sussex’

c.1819

Not on display
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 87 x 119 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D13751
Turner Bequest CLXIX 1

Catalogue entry

These studies of helmets and the heads of various medieval weapons inform the design of the frontispiece vignette for Turner’s Views in Sussex, engraved in 1819,1 for which no preliminary watercolour design is known.2 Whether Turner sketched the items directly or from existing illustrations is unclear. In a letter postmarked 10 February 1819 to W.B. Cooke, the main engraver and publisher of the series, Turner wrote: ‘Just send me the vignette Helmet for an Hour or so I think I can further improve it at least Allen will be released from a little more of the coat of mail’. J.C. Allen evidently collaborated with the artist in the engraving process.3
The vignette shows a banner inscribed ‘BATTLE O[F] HASTINGS’, a helmet with an arrow through the eye-hole of its visor (alluding to the traditional cause of King Harold’s death at Hastings in 1066) and a crown dislodged from it, chain mail, a crossbow, a mace and a short weapon with a billhook. Of the four helmets here, the one at the bottom left with its shadowy open front loosely corresponds with the one in the vignette, though it lacks the prominent visor. The shape of the double-edged billhook at the top centre was closely followed in the print. A similar group of objects occurs in the foreground of the watercolour vignette On Camp Hill, near Hastings of about 1835 (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh),4 engraved for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works (1837; Tate impressions: T04781, T04782).
There are studies on folios 39 verso and 40 verso (D13811, D13813), from which other elements of the finished design are derived. See also the notes on folios 30 recto and 36 recto (D13797, D13805), which relate to Views in Sussex.
1
Reproduced in Jan Piggott, Turner’s Vignettes, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, fig.15 (showing full title page), Eric Shanes, Turner’s Rivers, Harbours and Coasts, London 1981, ill.3 and the same author’s Turner’s England 1810–38, London 1990, ill.3.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.348.
3
John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner with an Early Diary and a Memoir by George Jones, Oxford 1980, p.76 letter no.81 and note 4.
4
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.454 no.1287, reproduced.
Technical notes:
There is slight staining at the corners due to proximity to the leather overlaps at the corners of the cover beneath the front endpaper opposite (D40932), and rubbing to the surface in general.

Matthew Imms
September 2013

Read full Catalogue entry

Explore

You might like