Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Pharos (The Scarlet Tower)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 229 × 178 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 77

Catalogue entry

Popularly known as The Scarlet Tower, this brilliantly coloured vignette design has been identified by Jan Piggott as a study of the tower of Pharos at Alexandria for Thomas Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean.1 Moore’s hero, Alciphron, sees the great rock and tower of Pharos upon his arrival in the Egyptian city:
and at length, as the morning freshly broke, we saw the beautiful city of Alexandria rising from the sea, with its proud Palace of Kings, its portico of four hundred columns, and the fair Pillar of Pillars, towering in the midst to heaven. After passing in review this splendid vision, we shot rapidly round the Rock of Pharos, and, in a few minutes, found ourselves in the harbour of Eunostus. The sun had risen, but the light on the Great Tower of the Rock was still burning; and there was a languor in the first waking movements of that voluptuous city – whose houses and temples lay shining in silence around the harbour
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, pp.15–6)
The study differs dramatically from another view of Pharos that Turner made for Moore’s tale, which, like many of Turner’s preliminary studies for The Epicurean, is a pencil drawing overlaid with delicate pastel washes (see Tate D27633; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 116). By contrast, the tower here is delineated by intense colour.
Anne Lyles and Diane Perkins have linked the distinctive chromatic pairing of bright yellow and red of the study to another work, also thought to be a preparatory design for the Moore’s series (see Tate D27599; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 82).2 The similar execution of these two works suggests that they were almost certainly produced at around the same time and for the same project. Both studies were previously identified with Turner’s illustrations to Campbell’s Poetical Works, published by Moxon in 1837.3 However, the 1837 watermark on Pharos discounts this identification, since Turner finished his illustrations for Campbell’s Works no later than 1836.
The vibrant palette of both studies is particularly striking given that the illustrations were designed to be translated into monochrome engravings. Turner often deliberately employed bright colours in order to encourage his engravers to translate the spirit and effects of his compositions.4 His use of large areas of contrasting colour would have helped engravers to convert the tonal aspects of the composition into black and white.5
Piggott 1993, p.96.
Lyles and Perkins 1989, p.78.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.101.
Wilton 1977, p.14.
Lyles and Perkins 1989, p.78.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop