This study has been identified by Jan Piggott as a preliminary sketch for O’Connor’s Child,1 circa 1835 (National Galleries of Scotland), one of Turner’s vignette illustrations for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Campbell’s Poetical Works.2 The finished version of this subject was engraved by Edward Goodall to accompany the verses of the same title.3 The poem is the lamentation of the daughter of an Irish clan chief whose ‘basely born’ lover, Connocht Moran, has been killed by her scornful brothers. In revenge, she brings about the deaths of her brothers and spends the rest of her days mourning her lost love.
The scene appears to show the moment when the brothers discover the young heroine and her lover in their forest hideaway. O’Connor’s child and Connocht Moran occupy the lower right-hand corner of the composition, whilst at least two sinister forms representing the villainous brothers can be seen emerging from the shadowy background. In the final illustration Turner chose to depict the girl mourning by her lover’s grave as her brothers march off to war with the English, where they will meet their deaths. In spite of this shift in content there are considerable formal similarities between the study and the finished version. Both place the heroine in the foreground and employ an upright, oblong composition.
It is possible that a number of other vignette studies represent experimental studies for O’Connor’s Child (see for example Tate D27576; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 59). Additionally, a small, hastily executed landscape sketch may also be related to this subject (see Tate D28865; Turner Bequest CCXCI b 52).4
This work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour studies in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preparatory sketches for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This work was part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.5 For an explanation of his meaning of ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes above. Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.6
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1276; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.57.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.618. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04770).
Piggott 1993, p.62.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Bower 1999, p.59.