This drawing has been related to the richly painted but unfinished Two Women with a Letter (Tate N05501),1 currently dated to about 1830.2 The painting has been seen as a development from the 1827 ink, chalk and gouache blue paper studies Turner made of country house life at John Nash’s East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight (Tate; Turner Bequest CCXXVII a) and Lord Egremont’s Petworth House in Sussex (Tate; Turner Bequest CCXLIV), addressed elsewhere in this catalogue. See also the painting of a Music Party, East Cowes Castle (Tate N03550).3
Martin Butlin suggested that the ‘concentration on the back of the neck and the high-swept hair-style of the foremost girl’ in the first painting may derive from the work of Henry Fuseli (1741–1825),4 Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy, who often depicted women with elaborately, even fetishistically, arranged hair, sometimes from the back; see for example Tate N03396 and T10440. He also mentioned a comparable pencil study of a woman in the Seine and Paris sketchbook (Tate D23927; Turner Bequest CCLIV 24),5 now dated to 1832. The Turner and Watteau Scholar Selby Whittingham has described Two Women with a Letter as ‘a more Dutch theme’;6 and while noting Butlin’s mention of Fuseli, he has suggested that the hairstyle was simply the fashion of the day, as seen in the large painting England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday, exhibited in 1819 (Tate N00502),7 and might also derive from one of the recognised influences on that picture and other works by Turner of this period, the French painter of elegant fêtes champêtres, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721).8
Although Anne Chumbley and Ian Warrell have noted that Turner’s ‘pencil is employed with studied delicacy’,9 Evelyn Joll has suggested that the girl in profile ‘is the reverse of elegant and appears to be nothing more than an ill-favoured brat.’10 Nevertheless, the reflected glow within her shadowed face is carefully and sympathetically observed. While the left-hand figure may well have been a source for the painting, the second figure does not appear, although the features and ringlets of the further woman are not dissimilar in effect. Close examination of the drawing shows the faint beginnings of a third head, between the other two towards the top, with an elementary rendering of the headdress and apparent indications to position the chin and neck, suggesting an abandoned full-face pose.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.282 no.448, as c.1835, pl.449 (colour).
See Butlin 1989, p.93, and Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.54.
Ibid., pp.281–2 no.447 pl.448.
Ibid., p.282; see also Butlin 1989, p.93, and Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.54.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.282; see also Butlin 1989, p.93.
Whittingham 1985, p.19.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.106–7 no.140, pl.145 (colour).
See Wittingham 1985, p.19; the comment is noted in Butlin 1989, p.93; see also Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.54, and Joll 1989, p.59, the latter favouring a Fuseli connection.
Chumbley and Warrell 1989, p.54.
Joll 1989, p.59.