Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for a Historical Subject: A Town with Towers and a Bridge, in a Thunder Storm

c.1799–1805

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk on paper
Dimensions
Support: 436 × 271 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D05012
Turner Bequest LXXXI 110

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, the subject is continued on folio 57 recto opposite (D05013; Turner Bequest LXXXI 111). This is one of the most ferocious storms Turner ever imagined, a veritable tornado of black cloud obscuring the high crenellated towers of a castle or fortified town. The arches of a bridge are discernible to the right, and there seem to be figures on a shore in the foreground. It is perhaps a design for The Destruction of Sodom of about 1805 (Tate N00474)1 or possibly for the ‘Hero and Leander’ subject he was not to realise until the 1830s; see under folios 3 recto and 30 recto respectively (D04906, D04959; Turner Bequest LXXXI 5, 57).
A further possibility is that the scene is the bombardment of a town, perhaps a modern Napoleonic Wars battle such as the action at Copenhagen by Nelson on 2 April 1801. Much later, in about 1835 Turner was to make a watercolour vignette illustration of Thomas Campbell’s poem about that engagement, The Battle of the Baltic (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh),2 engraved for Campbell’s Poetical Works in 1837 (Tate impression: T04772).

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

1
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.44 no.56, pl.66.
2
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.453 no.1278, reproduced.

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