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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Diagram of Ship Positions and Notes on the Battle of Trafalgar 1805

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 9 Verso:
Diagram of Ship Positions and Notes on the Battle of Trafalgar 1805
Pencil on white wove paper, 114 x 184 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Boatswain described this’ above outlines of ships, and see also below
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
For the Battle of Trafalgar and Turner’s gathering of information about it see the Introduction to this sketchbook. Finberg did not number this side of the leaf (for its recto see D05455) and his brief citation does not do justice either to the diagram or to the inscription. With the sketchbook inverted, two phases of the battle are sketched in outline, at left a close group of three ships and at right four, drawn even tighter together in a row. Those on the left, from below, are the Victory and the Bucentaure, flagship of the French Admiral Villeneuve, aligned in a V-formation, and the Santissima Trinidad, the huge flagship of the Spanish Rear-Admiral Cisneros (for which see chiefly folio 21 verso, D05458; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 12). On the right, from left to right, are the Victory, the French ship Redoutable (see chiefly folio 10, D05457; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 11), the British Temeraire and the French Fougueux. The right-hand group corresponds to that in another battle plan drawn on folio 31 verso (D05479; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 24a), and to the arrangement in Turner’s picture Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory (Tate N00480;1 see Introduction to the sketchbook for the picture and related works).
The outline, like others in the book, is so crudely or quickly drawn that one wonders if it was added to the book by an eye-witness to the battle who met aboard the Victory. Here, Turner’s inscription credits the account of the Boatswain. William Willmet. It also states: ‘After the ... passed some other ship with | a white lion Head raked the Vic.’ The first’s ship’s name is unfortunately not clear; this writer had thought it referred to the Santissima Trinidad which had a white lion on the bow, but Pieter van der Merwe2 has suggested it is the Temeraire. The rest of Turner’s note would approximately conform to the sequence of events if the second ship mentioned was the Bucentaure and only the small lion’s head below her bowsprit had been seen or, in the smoke of battle her figurehead, a white bucentaur (half man, half ox), had been mistaken for a lion.3

David Blayney Brown
January 2010

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.46 no.58 (pl.68).
In conversation with the author, January 2010
For the designs for the Bucentaure, showing both these features, see Brian Lavery, Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar, London 2004, p.101.

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Diagram of Ship Positions and Notes on the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, January 2010, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-diagram-of-ship-positions-and-notes-on-the-battle-of-r1139253, accessed 24 June 2024.