Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study of a Boat in Storm seen by Moonlight; Study for ‘The Andes Coast’ or ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’ for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 181 × 227 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 41

Catalogue entry

This rough watercolour vignette is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches in the Turner Bequest which have been identified as preliminary studies for Campbell’s Poetical Works, published by Edward Moxon in 1837. Although the general subject of a boat in a storm is clear enough, there is some uncertainty about which of Campbell’s poems the scene was intended to illustrate. Jan Piggott has tentatively related it to ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’, a poem in which the heroine drowns at sea in an attempt to elope with her forbidden lover.1 Turner’s finished illustration (National Gallery of Scotland) shows the ill-fated couple standing on shore, awaiting the ferry ride which will carry them to their deaths.2 The study may represent the ship pitching in the rough seas in the middle distance of the composition. However, the motif could also lend itself to Campbell’s description of a lone vessel at sea as illustrated by another design, The Andes Coast circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland).3 For a general discussion of sketches related to The Andes Coast, see Tate D27524; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 7. There are also several other various works which show views of a solitary ships riding the seas (see Tate D27563, D27572, D27654, D27726; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 46, 55, 137, 209).
In common with other vignette sketches related to Campbell’s Poetical Works, the design has been painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. The work was one of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.4 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’.5
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1280; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.59.
Wilton 1979, no.1272; reproduced in colour in Campbell 1993, p.55.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is made on off-white low-grade machine-made cartridge paper. The maker is unknown and there is no watermark. This paper would have been relatively cheap to buy and could have been purchased from a colourman, cut off from a roll to the desired size. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the paper which has slightly more texture than the ‘wire’ side, allowing better adhesion of pigment and graphite to the surface of the sheet. Many of Turner’s vignette studies were made on a similar grade of machine-made paper, and the artist employed the ‘felt’ side on all of them.1
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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