Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for Vignette of A Tempest - Voyage of Columbus


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 59 × 96 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXV 29 a

Catalogue entry

As Finberg has stated, folios 29 verso and 30 (D25694, D25695) contain studies for one of Turner’s vignette illustrations of Columbus for Rogers’s Poetry.1 The work, as Jan Piggott has pointed out, is A Tempest – Voyage of Columbus 1831–2 (watercolour, Tate D27719; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 202).2
The two studies are variations on the same composition, and although there are similarities to the final design, they otherwise vary somewhat. At the upper centre of both sketches is the dark figure of a phantom or angel who in Rogers’s poem appears to tell Columbus to return to Spain and to deliver his prophesy of war. With his left arms raised the angel holds aloft a torch. The orb of the moon, which in the poem ‘filled her silver urn with light’,3 is shown to the left (more obviously in folio 30) and there are clouds and jagged lines to the right which in the vignette become the visionary figures of archers carrying shields. Beneath the angel are several arcs which are in different positions in each sketch. These seem to serve a diagrammatic function, indicating where swirls of cloud and water may appear in the final design. The dark area at the bottom of the sketch is the sea, and several dark shapes upon it (more easily discernible in the present sketch) probably represent Columbus’s boats.
The main elements of the design are therefore present in these two sketches, but, as noted, the final composition varies somewhat. In the vignette the angel raises both arms, and the torch is held in his right hand. Rather than the cloak suggested by the triangular shape of the figure in these studies, he has two wings. In the vignette, the moon appears below the angel, rather than to the left, where it is wrapped in dark grey clouds through which moonbeams shine as in the depiction of the sun on folio 27 of this sketchbook (D245690). The vignette has a roughly oval shape with a vertical composition, so the actual design varies significantly from these two ‘landscape’ compositions.
Turner also made a watercolour study for A Tempest (Tate D27617; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 100) which, as Meredith Gamer points out, differs in palette and form showing the ‘angel soaring out of the clouds with arms outstretched, as if to cast a protective shade over Columbus’s ships sailing below.’ That design, as Gamer and Holcombe have noticed, derives from thumbnail sketches in Turner’s working copy of the 1827 edition of the Poems (Tate D36330, Turner Bequest CCCLXVI pp.244, 250).4

Thomas Ardill
September 2009

Finberg 1909, II, p.851, CCLXV 29a, 30.
Dr Jan Pig Dr Jan Piggott, Turner’s Vignettes, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, pp.40–4, 85 under cat.27.
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.262, Canto XII.
Adele Holcomb, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Illustrations to the Poets’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of California, Los Angeles 1966, p. 93.

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