J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Academical Sketchbook c.1798–9

Turner Bequest XLIII 1–50
Sketchbook bound in boards covered in brown calf leather
51 leaves of blue laid paper and 2 flyleaves of white wove paper; page size 216 x 140 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pen and ink ‘Academical’ on front cover and ‘32’ on spine
Numbered 156 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854, and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest on a piece of paper tipped in inside front cover (D40592)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner put this sketchbook to two principal uses. He took it with him to the Royal Academy’s Life Class in order to draw from the nude model, a practice he had begun in 1790 when he was a young student (see the ‘Royal Academy c.1789–99’ section of this catalogue), and continued intermittently throughout the 1790s and irregularly for several decades thereafter. Although there are thirteen life studies in the book, they represent only nine visits to the Life Class, as four of the poses are repeated in views from different positions. It is to this series of drawings that the title Turner inscribed on the front cover refers. Despite John Ruskin’s dismissive comment on them (see later in the Introduction), they are accomplished drawings in which Turner displays complete confidence in drawing the nude, and a sure sense of the placing of the figure on the page.
Turner also used the book to work out ideas for pictures, notably Welsh subjects stimulated by his tours in Wales in 1798 and 1799. In this respect the book has much in common with the Studies for Pictures sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXIX). Like that book, it is composed of sheets of blue laid paper; in this case Turner has washed them throughout with a red-brown ground – a sure indication that he envisaged making compositional designs, which he often liked to work out across a tonal gamut from dark to light, as in oil painting. As is frequently the case in books that he took the trouble to prepare with a ground in this way, many of the pages were never used.

This Academical sketchbook should not be confused with a slightly later book including nude studies, presumably made in the Royal Academy Schools, which Finberg called Academies and dated to 1804 (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXIV).
Finberg recorded ‘Turner’s label on back – “35. Academy”’,1 that is to say, presumably the customary ink inscription on a paper label pasted to the spine, but since lost. He also noted that the sketchbook was ‘Marked “O.43” in Mr. Ruskin’s List. His comment is – “S.156. One glowing dark Caernarvon, fine. Academy studies, base.”’2
1
Finberg 1909, I, p.105.
2
Ibid.

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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How to cite

Andrew Wilton, ‘Academical Sketchbook c.1798–9’, sketchbook, May 2013, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, April 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/academical-sketchbook-r1174013, accessed 05 December 2021.