Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘The Army of the Medes Destroyed in the Desert by a Whirlwind’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Chalk on paper
Support: 271 × 436 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXXI 165

Catalogue entry

Turner exhibited his now untraced painting The Army of the Medes Destroyed in the Desart by a whirlwind at the Royal Academy in 1801.1 In a subtitle as printed in the catalogue he cited ‘Jeremiah, chap. xv. Ver 32, and 33’ as his source, that is to say chapter 15; Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll point out that he probably intended chapter 25.2 This study of a confused mass of figures, made with the page turned horizontally, seems to refer back to the example of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), as do some of the some of the pen and ink figure studies in this sketchbook.
Other studies apparently for the picture are on folios 82 recto and 83 recto (D05063, D05065; Turner Bequest LXXXI 161, 163); see also drawings in the Dynevor Castle sketchbook (Tate D01562–D01563, D01566–D01567; Turner Bequest XL 58a–59, 60a–61). Writing of D05065, Finberg suggested a connection3 with the painting of The Deluge of about 1805 (Tate N00493);4 the present drawing is equally suggestive of a disaster at sea, with what appear to be the hulls of ships tossed on stormy waters, and figures drowning. In practice, as many drawings in this book show, Turner’s subjects were often interchangeable.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.13–15 no.15.
See ibid., p.14.
See Finberg 1909, I, p.218.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.43–4 no.55, pl.65 (colour).

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop