Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Columbus Setting Sail’, Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 284 × 324 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 19

Catalogue entry

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.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is painted on an unwatered marked cream wove paper drawing, possibly made by John Dickinson at Apsley Mill, Hertfordshire. The deckle edge still visible on part of the sheet reveals that it is machine- rather than hand-made.1
Bower 1999, p.59.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘AB 117 P | M’ and ‘CCLXXX.19’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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