Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for a Composition of the Deluge


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 330 × 433 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XLVII 21

Catalogue entry

Made with the page turned horizontally, this is one of three drawings that seem to be loosely related to Turner’s work on a large canvas, The Deluge (Tate N00493),1 probably first shown at his own gallery in 1805. The other two are D02199 and D02210 (Turner Bequest XLVII 22, 33), and a further possibly connected sheet is D02211 (Turner Bequest XLVII 34). None of these sketches bears any close resemblance to the layout of the finished canvas, but this is the most fully imagined study, with figures, a cliff and distant mountains on the left, and water flooding in round a tree from the right.
The inverted-V shape among the figures indicated on top of the cliff is similar to marks in a corresponding position on D02210, which seem to indicate a pyramid. It is possible that the subject in question is the drowning of Pharaoh’s host in the Red Sea. Compare studies for historical subjects in the Calais Pier sketchbook (Tate D04906, D04934, D04939–D04940, D04959; Turner Bequest LXXXI 5, 33, 38–39, 57).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.43–4 no.55, pl.65 (colour).
Technical notes:
The sheet was irregularly torn diagonally from the bottom centre to the centre right. For a proposed sequence for the leaves of the disbound Fonthill sketchbook, with this page as folio 31, see the Introduction.

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

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