Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Plants, and List of Historical Subjects (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 226 × 294 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Turner’s list reads:
5 Plague
10 Plague
Echo and Nar
Pyramus and Thisbe
Dido and Aeneas
Hero and Leander
This list names historical, biblical and classical subjects used or presumably intended for the Liber Studiorum and inspired by pictures by Nicolas Poussin or perhaps also Richard Wilson. Four subjects were engraved for the Liber while others were painted. Only one, Pyramus and Thisbe, is otherwise unknown. The Fifth Plague of Egypt (Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana)1 was exhibited in 1800 and later engraved for the Liber; for the drawing see Tate D08120; Turner Bequest CXVI S. The Tenth Plague of Egypt (Tate N00470)2 was exhibited in 1802 and later engraved for the Liber; for the drawing see Tate D08162; Turner Bequest CXVIII H. The Deluge (Tate N00493)3 may have been exhibited in 1805 and was engraved for but not published in the Liber; for the drawing see Tate D08178; Turner Bequest CXVIII X. Narcissus and Echo (Tate T03869; displayed at Petworth House)4 was exhibited in 1804 and reproduced in a soft-ground etching by Turner himself, presumably with the Liber in mind. Dido and Aeneas (Tate N00494)5 was not exhibited until 1814 but is seen in the planning in the earlier Studies for Pictures: Isleworth and Hesperides 1 sketchbooks (Tate D05520; Turner Bequest XC 21; D05773–D05778; Turner Bequest XCIII 4a, 5, 5a–7). The Parting of Hero and Leander – from the Greek of Musaeus (National Gallery, London)6 was only exhibited in 1837 but had an even longer gestation, reaching back to the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate D04959; Turner Bequest LXXXI 57). Neither of these last subjects was used for the Liber.
While Turner’s interest in Poussin and Wilson stretched back some years, and in Poussin’s case especially to his visit to the Louvre in 1802, it could have been reinforced in 1808 by Richard Colt Hoare who owned examples of both artists’ work. Moreover Turner’s tour into North Wales that summer (see Introduction to the sketchbook) could have taken him to Wynnstay where, on an earlier visit, he had drawn Poussin’s Landscape with a Snake (National Gallery, London) in the collection of Sir Watkyn Williams Wynn; see the Dolbadarn sketchbook which contains both a sketch of Poussin’s picture and one for The Fifth Plague (Tate D02165, D02114; Turner Bequest XLVI 114a, 79).

David Blayney Brown
May 2010

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.10–11 no.13 (pl.10).
Ibid., pp.17–18 no.17 (pl.13).
Ibid., pp.43–4 no.55 (pl.65).
Ibid., pp.41–3 no.53 (pl.63).
Ibid., pp.92–3 no.129 (pl.153).
Ibid., pp.221–2 no.370 (pl.374).

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