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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Postilion or Vetturino, a Man in a Tall Hat and Two Women, Perhaps at Brescia 1819

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 18 Verso:
A Postilion or Vetturino, a Man in a Tall Hat and Two Women, Perhaps at Brescia 1819
Turner Bequest CLXXV 18a
Pencil on white wove paper, 112 x 185 mm
Partial watermark ‘lee | 13’
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Red’ and ‘[...]’ left of centre, and ‘yellow’ right of centre
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg characterised only one of these four figures precisely, as a ‘postilion’,1 who would have ridden one of the horses pulling a coach, as opposed to the coachman sitting on the vehicle. Such horsemen wore heavy boots to avoid injury from the animal to one side, and Finberg presumably thought the high boots worn by the third figure indicated his trade. He or the figure in a tall hat to his right might alternatively be a vetturino (the driver of a vettura, a public carriage drawn by horses or other animals).2
On the left are two women, one carrying baskets or bundles on a yoke or pole slung over her shoulder, and the other in a wide hat and apron. That they are all shown from behind suggests that they were probably observed without their knowledge during a break on Turner’s journey across northern Italy, perhaps in the square at Brescia shown on folio 19 recto opposite (D14356).
There are a few such studies scattered through this book, as there are in many of those Turner used while touring to record local characters and costumes as adjuncts to the landscape and architecture; others here include folios 14 recto, 22 verso, 23 verso, 26 recto, 30 recto, 31 verso, 34 recto, 36 verso, 42 recto, 44 verso, 55 verso, 60 recto, 69 recto and 80 recto (D14346, D14358, D14360, D14364, D14371, D14373, D14378, D14382, D14393, D14398, D14420, D14429, D14447, D14468). Even so, Andrew Wilton has suggested that ‘Turner spent less time on this tour drawing the local people and their activities than was his usual practice – in France and Holland, for example’.3

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Finberg 1909, I, p.512.
See Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.21–2; see also Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner on Classic Ground: His Visits to Central and Southern Italy and Related Paintings and Drawings’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 1984, pp.74–6.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.141.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘A Postilion or Vetturino, a Man in a Tall Hat and Two Women, Perhaps at Brescia 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2017, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, July 2017, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-postilion-or-vetturino-a-man-in-a-tall-hat-and-two-women-r1186464, accessed 24 May 2024.