Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Dido Directing the Equipment of the Fleet’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 190 × 230 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 372

Catalogue entry

The subject of this compositional sketch appears to have gone unrecognised previously, but it is the most closely related of the surviving studies for the major painting Dido Directing the Equipment of the Fleet, or The Morning of the Carthaginian Empire, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828 (Tate N00506),1 and evidently in progress from some time in the second half of 1827, as discussed in the Introduction to this subsection.
The details here correspond directly with elements in the painting (badly damaged following restoration attempts early in the twentieth century) as seen in an early photograph.2 The high buildings at the left and in the distance towards the right, the flanking towers, the silhouetted tree and buildings either side of the low sun, and the grand colonnade on the right are all there. At the bottom left are separate studies apparently exploring the form of the shaded tower towards the top left, which became ornate but slightly less exotic in the finished design. The tower towards the right of the painting also differs, with two open arcades surmounted by a narrow pyramidal spire. The equivalent structure here (for which there seems to be an alternative design at the bottom right of the composition) may be a last echo of the turrets of the mock-medieval East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight, where Turner seems to have first considered the subject; see the towers to the left of the trees in two other studies for the painting (Tate D20818, D24846; Turner Bequest CCXXVII a 15, CCLX 10).
Turner appears to have allowed existing horizontal folds in the paper to suggest the broad, panoramic form of the main drawing. The sheet had originally served as an envelope, addressed to the artist by hand on the other side (Tate D40448). There are no clues as to the precise date of its delivery, but two other sheets of studies which can be related to the painting (D25522, D25523; Turner Bequest CCLXIII a 7, 8) are also on items of correspondence from November 1827 (respectively Tate D40313 and D40314).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.149–50 no.241.
Ibid., pl.243.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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