Joseph Mallord William Turner

Vignette Study of Island in a Storm, Possibly for ‘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 63

Catalogue entry

This work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour sketches in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preparatory studies for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. In this tempestuous seascape scene, the mast of a boat pitched dramatically to one side, is just visible on the far right-hand side of the study. This detail tentatively links the composition to Turner’s finished vignette illustration for Lord Ullin’s Daughter circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland).1 Campbell’s poem is a tragic tale of a heroine who drowns at sea during an attempt to elope with her secret lover. Turner’s finished illustration depicts the ill-fated couple awaiting the ferry that will lead to their deaths, and the configuration of the beleaguered vessel in the background may be the same as that represented in the study. In particular, the storm clouds amassing in the sky may reflect the following lines:
“O haste, thee haste!” the lady cries,
“Though tempests round us gather;
I’ll meet the raging of the skies;
But not an angry father.”
The boat has left a stormy land,
A stormy sea before her, –
When oh! too strong for human hand
The tempest gathered o’er her.
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, p.?)
Jan Piggott has identified the mass in the centre of the composition as an island although it could also be part of a headland.2
There are a number of other works in the Turner Bequest that may also relate to Lord Ullin’s Daughter (see Tate D27557, D27558, D27581, D27588, D27638; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40, 41, 64, 71, 121). In particular there is a resemblance between the palette, mood and style of this study and that of the Tate D27557; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40.
The work was once part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.3 For an explanation of his meaning for ‘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’.4
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.
Piggott 1993, p.96.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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