Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Spirits of the Sunset


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 377 × 291 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 133

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).
The subject of this unfinished study is unclear. It may have been intended to complement a description in Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean, of the spirits of sunset, who inhabit a heavenly realm:
Music, such as is heard in dreams, came floating at a distance; and as my eyes gradually recovered their powers of vision, a scene of glory was revealed to them, almost too bright for imagination, and yet living and real. As far as the sight could reach, enchanting gardens were seen, opening away through long tracts of light and verdure ... Vistas, opening into scenes of indistinct grandeur ... Over all this, too, there fell a light, from some unseen source, resembling nothing that illumines our upper world – a sort of golden moonlight, mingling the warm radiance of day with the calm and melancholy lustre of night. Through all the bright gardens were wandering, with the serene air and step of happy spirits, groups both of young and old, of venerable and of lovely forms, bearing, most of them, the Nile’s white flowers on their heads, and branches of the eternal palms in their hands
(Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, 1839, pp.59–60)
However, Jan Piggott has also linked the sketch to part of the composition for The Chaplet, circa 1838 (untraced),1 a finished watercolour vignette which was engraved for publication by Edward Goodall (see Tate D27644; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 127).2 The line of figures in the sketch may relate to the tiny frieze of human forms which appear through the upper window at the rear of the temple in the final illustration.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.456, no.1301; Piggott 1993, p.90.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.637. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T06625).
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’ top left. 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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