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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?A Design for a Historical Figure Subject 1827

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 9 Recto:
?A Design for a Historical Figure Subject 1827
Turner Bequest CCVII 9
Pencil on white wove paper, 74 x 100 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘9’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCVII – 9’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg’s assumption that this is a ‘Design for a figure subject’1 seems likely, although its precise significance is obscure. A figure in a long, dark dress or robes, possibly with a ruff, stands on the right, perhaps beside a high table, with at least two less defined figures towards the left. It is feasible to read the forms to the right of the main figure as a sailing boat in the distance, or they may indicate objects on the table.
The occasion might be some event from Tudor or Stuart history of the type Turner occasionally attempted, such as the painting Lucy, Countess of Carlisle, and Dorothy Percy’s Visit to their Father Lord Percy, when under Attainder upon the Supposition of his being concerned in the Gunpowder Plot, exhibited in 1831 (Tate N00515).2 Compare the even more uncertain figure subjects on folios 4 recto and 6 recto (D17997, D18000). The other possibility is that this is a copy or variation on the work of another artist, as yet unidentified.

Matthew Imms
December 2014

Finberg 1909, I, p.625.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.190–1 no.338, pl.340.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘?A Design for a Historical Figure Subject 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 2014, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-design-for-a-historical-figure-subject-r1183493, accessed 20 May 2024.