The subject of this hastily executed sketch appears to be a conflagration. Although the composition is too vague to be conclusively linked to any of the finished watercolours, the work appears to be one of a group of more than thirty studies in the Turner Bequest related to Turner’s illustrations for Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style.
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’.1 For an explanation of his meaning of ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes to Tate D27579; CCLXXX 62. 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’.2
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 40 P| O’ bottom right