Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Sky for ‘The Nile’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 228 × 179 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 82

Catalogue entry

This dazzling study of a sun setting over water has been identified by Jan Piggott as a preliminary sketch for The Nile, circa 1838 (untraced),1 one of four vignette illustrations which Turner produced for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. The finished watercolour was engraved by Edward Goodall and published to accompany Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean.2
The study stands in stark contrast to Turner’s other sketches for Moore’s tale, which tend to be executed in pencil and pale pastel watercolour washes (for example, see Turner’s other study for The Nile, Tate D27630; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 113). The brilliant palette and bold composition of this study link it to another work in the Bequest, which is also thought to be a preparatory study for Moore’s tale (see Tate D27599; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 82).3 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 1837.4 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.5 His use of large areas of contrasting colour would have helped engravers to convert the tonal aspects of the composition into black and white.6
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.456, no.1300; Piggott 1993, p.96.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.636. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T06624); Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem, London 1839, reproduced between pp.152–3.
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.
Technical notes:
Watermark ‘SE & Co. 1837’
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CCLXXX 82’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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