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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Composition Studies sketchbook c.1805

Turner Bequest LXV 1–30
Sketchbook bound in marbled paper covers
30 leaves and endpapers of cream laid writing paper; page size 118 x 184 mm; watermark ‘J Lar[king]’ with crowned fleur-de-lys emblem lettered ‘L’ and dated ‘[1]801’ (trimmed)
Made by John Larking, of Upper Paper Mill, East Malling, Kent
Inscribed by Turner in ink ‘117’ on white wove paper label, 20 x 55mm, pasted around spine
Numbered 366 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854 and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest, Henry Scott Trimmer, Charles Lock Eastlake and John Prescott Knight, in ink ‘No 366 | 6 leaves of pen and & ink sketches | H. S Trimmer’ and in pencil ‘C.L.E’ and ‘JPK’ inside front cover, top centre
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram front cover, top left, and inside front cover, towards top left
Stamped ‘LXV’ front cover, top right
Inscribed in pencil ‘LXV’ inside front cover, top centre
Stamped in black ‘LXV’ inside front cover, top left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This book comprises rapid ink sketches of buildings and trees in riverside settings, and despite their slightness they are recognisable as rural River Thames subjects, here dated to about 1805 by comparison of their subjects and style with other sketchbook drawings of the period. The minimal previously published commentary on the subjects amounts to the half-page checklist in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory,1 later summarised by Gerald Wilkinson: ‘Six pen and ink castles, with numbers in skies’.2 This echoes John Ruskin’s endorsement on a wrapper recorded by Finberg: ‘366. Inv. Valueless, but curious studies with numerals in skies.’3 These numbers, from ‘1’ to ‘6’ may represent relative tones as a shorthand notation to save the extensive use of hatching or wash, in the somewhat ad hoc system Turner occasionally employed in landscape and sky studies; see for example a 1799 drawing of clouds in the Dolbadarn sketchbook (Tate D02007; Turner Bequest XLVI 10a), or an 1809 view of mountains in the Sandycombe and Yorkshire sketchbook (Tate D08969; Turner Bequest CXXVII 5).
Finberg dated the present book to about 1801, presumably on account of the watermarks from that year, and apparently coined the title ‘Composition Studies’,4 implying that the six rapid drawings were ideas for pictures rather than from direct observation. In this sense they are comparable with some of the more spontaneous ink drawings in the larger and more considered sketchbook Turner himself labelled ‘Studies for Pictures Isleworth’ (Tate; Turner Bequest XCV), along with Hesperides (1) and (2) (Tate; Turner Bequest XCIII, XCIV), where Thames topography is the starting point for more varied themes and effects.
Folios 1–4 recto here (D03802–D03805) may represent subjects very close to Turner’s Thameside lodgings at Syon Ferry House, Isleworth around 1805 (see David Blayney Brown’s overall Introduction to the present section),5 while folios 5 and 6 recto (D03806–D03807) may show Windsor Castle, within striking distance upstream. Comparisons with other drawings made around this time are made in the individual entries. Pen and ink studies in the physically very similar Shipwreck (1) and (2) sketchbooks (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXVII, LXXXVIII; see the technical notes below) also reinforce the likelihood of a mid 1800s dating.
David Hill initially suggested that Turner probably added his sequence of numbered and annotated paper spine labels during a general review of his sketchbooks in about 1821 or 1822,6 later revising this to the second half of 1824 on the dating evidence of some of the relevant books.7 Ian Warrell has subsequently reasoned that the process began in 1823, ending in the summer of 1824.8 Through an apparent oversight, Turner numbered both this book and the 1801 Edinburgh sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LV) ‘117’, although the middle ‘1’ here seems hesitant; Finberg read the overall number as ‘177’,9 which seems incorrect in being well beyond the overall 1–122 range of Turner’s sequence.10
Finberg 1909, I, p.167.
Wilkinson 1977, p.89.
Finberg 1909, I, p.167.
See ibid.
See also David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993.
See David Hill, ‘The Landscape of Imagination and the Sense of Place: Turner’s Sketching Practice’ in Maurice Guillaud, Nicholas Alfrey, Andrew Wilton and others, Turner en France, exhibition catalogue, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris 1981, pp.143, 147 note 34.
See David Hill, Turner on the Thames: River Journeys in the Year 1805, New Haven and London 1993, p.176 note 79.
See Ian Warrell, Turner’s Sketchbooks, London 2014, pp.15–16, 236 note 34, and p.234 for annotated checklist of ‘Turner’s Sketchbook Sequences’.
Finberg 1909, I, p.167.
See Warrell 2014, p.234.

Matthew Imms
April 2016

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Composition Studies sketchbook c.1805’, sketchbook, April 2016, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/composition-studies-sketchbook-r1183638, accessed 30 May 2024.