Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘A Hurricane in the Desert (The Simoom)’, Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 181 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 61

Catalogue entry

This previously unidentified watercolour study appears to be a preparatory sketch for the vignette, The Simoom, which Turner designed as an illustration to Samuel Rogers’s poem ‘Human Life’ (see Tate D27712; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 195). The study reflects the dramatic vortical composition and dark palette of the finished design, with the pale disc of the sun shining bleakly amidst the stormy sky in the background.
This is one of two potential studies for The Simoom in the Turner Bequest (see also Tate D27582; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 65). Jan Piggott has previously compared both sketches to Hohenlinden circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland),1 a later vignette subject for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works (1837).2
This work was part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.3 For an explanation of his meaning for ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes above. Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.4
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1279.
Piggott 1993, pp.95–6.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is made on off-white low-grade machine-made cartridge paper. The maker is unknown and there is no watermark. This paper would have been relatively cheap to buy and could have been purchased from a colourman, cut off from a roll to the desired size. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the paper which has slightly more texture than the ‘wire’ side, allowing better adhesion of pigment and graphite to the surface of the sheet. Many of Turner’s vignette studies were made on a similar grade of machine-made paper, and the artist employed the ‘felt’ side on all of them.1
Bower 1999, p.59.
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 40 P’ and ‘O’ bottom right and ‘D27578’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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