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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Figures Engaged in Sexual Activity 1845

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 5 Recto:
Figures Engaged in Sexual Activity 1845
Turner Bequest CCCLXI 5
Pencil on white wove paper, 86 x 111 mm
Partial watermark ‘ng | 2’
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘5’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCCLXI – 5’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
There are at least two drawings here, the one towards the gutter apparently being made with the page turned vertically and separated by a pencil line. Although ‘barely resolved’, it ‘could show two bodies, one of which may be about to straddle the erect penis of the other recumbent figure’, as Ian Warrell has noted.1 James Hamilton observes of the artist that ‘at seventy his creative sexual appetite did not desert him; there are drawings of female genitalia and copulation’2 in this sketchbook, the former being on folio 2 recto (D35489).
Among Turner’s occasional erotic sketches, the slightness of the coupling figures here is perhaps most comparable with those in a long sequence in the rather earlier Academy Auditing sketchbook, for example Tate D18513 (Turner Bequest CCX a 32).
Warrell 2003, p.43.
Hamilton 1997, p.301.
Technical notes:
There is some brown staining at the edge, possibly indicating water damage in the 1928 Tate flood.

Matthew Imms
September 2016

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Figures Engaged in Sexual Activity 1845 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 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/joseph-mallord-william-turner-figures-engaged-in-sexual-activity-r1183920, accessed 27 November 2020.