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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Curtained Bed, with a Naked Couple Engaged in Sexual Activity c.1834-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 36 Recto:
A Curtained Bed, with a Naked Couple Engaged in Sexual Activity c.1834–6
Turner Bequest CCXCI b 36
Watercolour and pencil on white wove paper, 77 x 101 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘36’ bottom right (now faint)
Stamped in black ‘CCXCI(b) – 36’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Here, in one of the least ambiguous studies in this sketchbook (prompting likely erotic readings of the rather less developed pages),1 a naked man and woman embrace in the swirling darkness of the interior of a curtained bed. Some of the forms of the initial washes were offset to or from folio 35 verso opposite (D28835), and Raphael Rosenberg has given this as an example of Klecksography, or drawings generated by random smudging, in this case starting from a sort of proto-Rorschach mirror image, albeit in this case the compositions on the opposite pages were developed in different ways2 (see the overall Introduction to the present grouping).
For a wider discussion of the improvisatory and often erotic nature of the watercolour studies making up most of this sketchbook, see elsewhere in the Introduction. Rosenberg has compared the treatment of the figures here with the head which appears in a study in the Fishing at the Weir sketchbook (Tate D27735; Turner Bequest CCLXXXI 6a) as evidence that they were done within a short space of time.3
When this sketchbook was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1966, the exhibited pages were not specified in the catalogue, and two double page spreads were reproduced: this and folio 35 verso opposite (D28835), and folios 41 verso–42 recto (D28844, D28846). When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1974, according to the catalogue it was open at ‘f.29v Two Figures Watching a Sleeping Woman ... f.30r A Couple in a Bed’4 but, despite the folio numbers, these titles in no way correspond to the slight subjects on folios 29 verso and 30 recto (D28827, D28828); rather, they apparently describe the more fully worked themes on this page and folio 35 verso opposite (D28835), and it is assumed here that these were the pages exhibited.
See Rosenberg 2007, p.117.
Ibid., pp.126–7.
Ibid., p.327 note 24.
Martin Butlin, Andrew Wilton and John Gage, Turner 1775–1851, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1974, p.126 no.455.
Blank, save for slight offsetting of watercolour to or from folio 37 recto opposite (unaccessioned; the verso is D28838).

Matthew Imms
May 2014

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Curtained Bed, with a Naked Couple Engaged in Sexual Activity c.1834–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2014, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, September 2014, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-curtained-bed-with-a-naked-couple-engaged-in-sexual-r1149063, accessed 23 January 2022.