Joseph Mallord William Turner

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


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 178 × 225 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 49

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 KOSCIUSKO 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 study closely resembles the bottom right-hand corner of the finished design. The dark horizontal structure on the right seems to be the Praga Bridge (Praga is the easternmost suburb of Warsaw where the uprising took place). The crossing is peopled by the silhouettes of skirmishing figures and backlit by a billowing inferno. Turner references Campbell’s description of the River Vistula’s ‘blood-dyed waters’ in his depiction of a violent orange and red sky above and the murky grey and red reflection below. Above the scene is the faint hint of a full moon. On the left is a triumphal arch described in the poem as ‘Prague’s [Praga’s] proud arch’. In the final watercolour this is placed further back in the centre of the composition.
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.
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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