Joseph Mallord William Turner

Two Studies for Classical Subjects


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 230 × 381 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXV 5

Catalogue entry

Unlike the other works from the Studies for Liber sketchbook, this sheet has been worked in pencil rather than brown watercolour washes, and includes two distinct compositions. They are artificial exercises in classical landscape, fundamentally derived from the paintings of Claude Lorrain (mostly known to Turner through Richard Earlom’s engravings of Claude’s Liber Veritatis drawings – see general Liber Studiorum introduction). Wash studies made on adjacent pages (Tate D08084–D08087; Turner Bequest CXV 1–4) probably show or are derived from the scenery along the Thames around Isleworth, where Turner had lived in 18051 and made many half-topographical, half-classical drawings (for example in the Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook: Tate; Turner Bequest XC).
The drawing with the bridge and trees occupying the top left quarter is perhaps a variation on the Liber composition Bridge and Goats (for drawing see Tate D08146; Turner Bequest CXVII R). The latter is generally thought to have been composed in the opening stages of the Liber project, possibly at its very beginning in 1806; the 1807 watermarks elsewhere in the present sketchbook would therefore preclude the pencil sketch being the first idea for the subject, and the similarity in the placing of such generic elements may simply be fortuitous. There may be a statue or figure at the centre of the drawing, in front of the trees.
The second drawing, taking up the right-hand half of the sheet and effectively an upright composition, appears to show buildings or ruins in the foreground, dropping away beyond the trees to a distant landscape of hills and lakes or rivers, perhaps with a town on the left. There are general affinities, again perhaps fortuitous, with Turner’s large, upright classical landscape Mercury and Herse, exhibited in 1811 (private collection).2 Among the Liber designs, The Temple of Minerva Medica and Scene in the Campagna (drawings respectively Tate D08128, D08141; Turner Bequest CXVII A, N) are in a similar spirit.
Forrester 1996, p.24 note 81.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.80–82 no.114, pl.122 (colour).
Notes by Peter Bower, Tate conservation files.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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