Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for ‘Kosciusko’, for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’


In Tate Britain

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 178 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 45

Catalogue entry

This unfinished watercolour has been identified by Jan Piggott as one of three preparatory studies for Kosciusko,1 a vignette illustration for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works, circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland).2 The design was engraved by Edward Goodall and accompanies the first part of Campbell’s famous poem ‘The Pleasures of Hope’, in which the poet celebrates the Republican hero Tadeusz Kosciusko (1746–1814).3 In 1794, Kosciusko led an unsuccessful uprising to free his native Poland from Russian control. Turner’s finished vignette shows Kosciusko and an allegorical figure of Poland standing before a besieged and smoldering Warsaw. The scene complements Campbell’s tragic description of the defeat:
Oh, bloodiest picture in the book of Time,
Sarmatia fell, unwept, without a crime;
Found not a generous friend, a pitying foe,
Strength in her arms, now mercy in her woe!
Dropp’d from her nerveless grasp the shatter’d spear,
Closed her bright eye, and curbed her high career; –
HOPE, for a season, bade the world farewell,
And Freedom shriek’d – as KOSCKIUSKO fell!
The sun went down, nor ceased the carnage there,
Tumultuous murder shook the midnight air –
On Prague’s proud arch the fires of ruin glow,
His blood-dyed waters murmuring far below
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, pp.14–15)
The main subject of this study seems to be the Praga Bridge (Praga is the easternmost suburb of Warsaw where the uprising took place). Turner references Campbell’s description of the River Vistula’s ‘blood-dyed waters’ in his depiction of a violent orange and red sky above. The brown boat crowded with people in the central foreground reappears in the lower right corner of the finished design. In the centre is a triumphal arch described in the poem as ‘Prague’s [Praga’s] proud arch’. This structure dominates the right-hand side of the study.
There are two other studies in the Turner Bequest that relate to Kosciusko (see Tate D27566; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 49 and Tate D27573; Turner Bequest CCLXX 56).
This sketch is closely related to the former. Both works show similar subjects and share the same blue and blazing orange sky. John Gage has formerly associated them with Turner’s sketches of the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 (see Tate; Turner Bequest) and two additional studies of fiery sunset skies (see Tate D27596; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 79 and Tate D27600; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 83).4 However, various differences in palette, composition, and date (D27596 bears an 1841 watermark), suggest that they are not in fact related.
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1273; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.56.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.615. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04767).
Gage 1974, p.41.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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