Jan Piggott has identified this unfinished watercolour as a preparatory study for Columbus Setting Sail, the second of seven illustrations that Turner produced for Rogers’s long poem, ‘The Voyage of Columbus’. The finished vignette was published as the head-piece to Canto I in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems (see Tate D27706; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 189).
Unlike the final design and another other sketch tentatively related to it (see Tate D27535; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 18), the scene shown here is remarkably sombre. Turner has depicted a moonlit scene with a shadowy tower on a rock lit. Several masts have been added in pencil, possibly the ships departing from Palos, as well as a small town and a distant land mass. The style and medium of this sketch are typical of Turner’s preparatory studies for Rogers’s Poems, which tend to be executed in pencil and light watercolour wash.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘AB 117 P | M’ and ‘CCLXXX.19’ bottom right