Joseph Mallord William Turner

Three Sketches of Chertsey Bridge and Thames Scenery; a Leaf; a Tambourine, Flute and Staff for ‘The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 155 × 95 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXL 8 a

Catalogue entry

The top sketch of Chertsey Bridge continues slightly on folio 9 (D10426). The bridge was designed by James Paine.
Superimposed over the middle sketch of riverside is the outline of a leaf and an assemblage of classical motifs, a tambourine, flute and staff. This is a study for the group of objects in the left foreground of The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (Tate N00499)1 exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817, for which there are various sketches and drafts of verses in this sketchbook (see especially notes to folio 4, D10416 for the picture and its historical background). Studies of a flowering lily on folio 9 (D10426) are for the plant growing in a Greek black-figure vase, also in the left foreground of the picture. Together these elements, presided over by a statue of Mercury, the messenger-god and patron of painters and sculptors, indicate the former importance of the arts in ancient Carthage. In a discussion of these motifs, Kathleen Nicholson observes that they appear reduced to ‘elegant debris’, in shadow and separated from the Carthaginian citizenry. She suggests that Turner may have taken his cue from the narrative, proposed by James Thomson in his poem Liberty (1735–6), that Carthage had come to neglect the arts in favour of ‘Luxury’ and had infected its Roman enemy with the same decadence.2

David Blayney Brown
July 2011

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.110–11 no.135 (pl.137).
Kathleen Nicholson, Turner’s Classical Landscapes: Myth and Meaning, Princeton 1990, p.110.

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