Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Flag of the Navy Board; a Yeoman of the Guard with a Detail of his Hat

c.1817–19

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 87 x 119 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D13803
Turner Bequest CLXIX 34 a

Catalogue entry

Inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, at the top left is the flag of the old Navy Board, overseeing the Navy Office until its abolition in 1832,1 featuring a large gold anchor flanked by two smaller ones on a red ground.2 A similar design is used by the present-day Navy Board, part of the Admiralty Board within the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence.3 In Turner’s time the Navy Office was accommodated in the south range of Somerset House, London,4 across the courtyard from the Royal Academy, from which he perhaps observed the flag flying.
Alternatively, Turner may have observed it on a state occasion, at the same time as sketching the man at the lower right, apparently in the uniform of the Yeomen of the Guard or the Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London (two distinct extant bodies with almost identical state dress).5 The soldier carries a poleaxe or halberd, and there is a detail of his Tudor-style shallow hat with its decorated brim at the lower centre. Turner’s colour note could apply equally to the flag or the uniform. Yeomen appear in other studies, including a page in the King’s Visit to Edinburgh sketchbook of 1822 (Tate D17563; Turner Bequest CC 35a) and an associated sheet of miscellaneous figures (Tate D34946; Turner Bequest CCCXLIV 446).

Matthew Imms
September 2013

1
See ‘History of the Ministry of Defence’, gov.uk, accessed 9 September 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/49053/history_of_mod.pdf.
2
See Barry H. Kent, Signal! A History of Signalling in the Royal Navy, 2nd ed., East Meon 2004, Pl.II and explanatory caption.
3
See ‘royalnavy.mod.uk: Ship’s Badges and Flags’, The National Archives, accessed 9 September 2013, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/training-and-people/the-rn-today/ship-s-badges-and-flags/; and ‘United Kingdom: Admiralty’, Flags of the World, accessed 9 September 2013, http://www.fotw.net/flags/gb-lha.html.
4
See Caroline Knight, ‘Somerset House: The History of the Building’, British Art Journal, vol.2, no.2, Winter 2000/2001, p.12.

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