Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ten Designs for Vignettes


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 181 × 111 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXVIII 28 a

Catalogue entry

Finberg suggested that the ten sketches on this page, and four more on folio 29 (D26150), may be designs for vignettes.1 Although none have a distinctly vignette format, and neither have they been linked directly to any completed vignettes by Turner, the suggestion is persuasive. None of the designs on the present page have a composition that strongly relates to the rectangular pencil borders that surround them, while some have a composition with a strong central focus which is typical of Turner’s vignette style, such as those at the top-left and at bottom-right corners. While none of the subjects are recognisable, the recurring themes of figures in the sky, the sun and clouds are reminiscent of some of the vignette illustrations to Roger’s Poems, Milton’s Poetical Works, Campbell’s Poetical Works, and Thomas Moore’s Epicurean. Assuming that these sketches were made at the same time, or shortly after the Scottish sketches in this book (September–October 1834), they may be related to the preparation of vignettes to Milton’s Poetical Works.
The designs will be discussed from left to right and top to bottom, and are numbered below accordingly, so that the top left sketch is ‘1’, and the bottom-right sketch is ‘10’.
Sketch 1 at the top left of the page is centred on a large sun, which hovers low over water and is surrounded by clouds. A figure floats at the right, its right arm stretching out towards the sun. The composition as a whole does not resemble any finished vignette, but the spirit-figure is reminiscent of various figures in vignettes such as The Fall of the Rebel Angels, circa 1834 (Tate T06286). Designs 2, 5 and 7 also contain figures of this type.
Sketch 2 depicts a figure floating above clouds or waves with what may be a crescent moon at the top left and a sun at the top right.
Sketch 3, which may be labelled ‘1’ by Turner, appears to depict a swirling tempestuous sea. The waves meet the clouds at the left and right of the image, creating a strong vortex composition appropriate for a vignette format. The subject and composition are reminiscent of The Death Boat of Heligoland, 1837 (Tate) for Campbell’s Poetical Works.

Thomas Ardill
January 2011

Finberg 1909, II, p.861.

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