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
Watercolour on paper
Support: 178 × 227 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 65

Catalogue entry

This watercolour study appears to be a preparatory sketch for the finished vignette, The Simoom, which was published in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems to illustrate a poem entitled ‘Human Life’ (see Tate D27712; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 195). Jan Piggott has previously suggested it represented a preparatory study for Hohenlinden circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland),1 a later vignette subject for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works (1837).2 He has also compared it with another study (see Tate D27578; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 61). However, the composition and dark palette of both sketches, with the pale disc of sun shining bleakly amidst the stormy sky in the background, closely reflects the vortical design and subject matter of The Simoom.
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 of ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes: to the entry. 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, p.96.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Ibid., 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

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop