Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Alciphron’s Swoon


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 201 × 292 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 128

Catalogue entry

This sketch belongs to a large group of vignette studies which relate to Turner’s illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. Unlike most of the works in this group, however, this delicate watercolour appears to be a finished illustration that was ultimately not chosen to be engraved for publication. Although there are a number of moments in Moore’s tale when the hero, Alciphron falls into a deep sleep, Jan Piggott has identified the following passage as the most likely source of inspiration for Turner’s illustration:1
At length, the intense glow of the sun over my head, and, still more, that ever restless agitation in my heart, became too much even for strength like mine to endure. Exhausted, I threw myself down at the base of the pyramid – choosing my place directly under the portal, where, even should slumber surprise me, my heart, if not my ear, might still keep watch, and her footstep, light as it was, could not fail to awake me.
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, p.45)
In Turner’s drawing, Alciphron seems to have collapsed from sheer exhaustion under a palm tree against a brilliant background of a pink and gold sky. The white orb on the right side of the composition may allude to the sleeper’s dreams, which centre on the lovely Alethe, Priestess of the Moon.
This is one of two more finished studies relating to The Epicurean that have remained in the Turner Bequest, presumably because they were never selected for publication. The other subject shows Alciphron’s descent into a well located deep within the Egyptian pyramids (see Tate D27646; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 129).
Piggott 1993, p.90.
Technical notes:
Like many of Turner’s studies for Moore’s The Epicurean, this sketch has been made on three-ply Bristol board, a type of board sold by most artists’ colourmen. The support exhibits three watermarks, ‘Slade | 1836’, and a circular blind embossed stamp, ‘Bristol | [image of crown] | Board’. The board has been laminated with handmade paper which has been trimmed to Foolscap size (nominally 15 x 12 inches). Peter Bower has identified the maker as the William & Thomas Slade Mill, the papermakers who succeeded William Allee at Hurstbourne Priors Mill in Hampshire.1
Bower 1999, pp.120–1; for a general technical discussion of nineteenth-century boards see ibid., pp.114–17.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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