Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Embarkation for the Festival of the Moon


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Crayon, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 381 × 305 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 131

Catalogue entry

This sketch belongs to a large group of preliminary studies which relate to Turner’s vignette illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. The study shares the same size, palette, and style as five other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27647; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 130).
Here, Turner is illustrating part of Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean. The scene is designed to accompany the author’s description of the Festival of the Moon, which the hero, Alciphron witnesses soon after his arrival in Alexandria:
The city of Memphis ... now, softened by the mild moonlight that harmonized with her decline, shone forth among her lakes, her pyramids, her shrines, like a dream of human glory that must ere long pass away. ...On the waters all was life and gaiety. As far as eye could reach, the lights of innumerable boats were seen studding, like rubies, the surface of the stream. Vessels of every kind, – from the light coracle, built for shooting down the cataracts, to the large yacht that glides slowly to the sound of flutes, – all were afloat for this sacred festival, filled with crowds of the young and the gay, not only from Memphis and Babylon, but from cities still farther removed from the festal scene.
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, pp.30–31)
Moore’s description is clearly reflected in Turner’s pencil sketch of a bay filled with boats. Several figures have been lightly drawn in the foreground, while the backdrop is dominated by a row of towering pyramids and a blazing noon sun. The artist made another related sketch (see Tate D27649; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 132). Like many of Turner’s studies for The Epicurean, however, this subject was not selected for publication.
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’ bottom right, inverted. 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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