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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Frontispiece to the 'Liber Studiorum' circa 1810-11

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Frontispiece to the ‘Liber Studiorum’ circa 1810–11
Vaughan Bequest CXVII V
Etching printed in brown ink with brown watercolour additions 186 x 260 mm on off-white paper 299 x 384 mm; plate-mark 210 x 291 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘1 M. Constance Clarke’ bottom left, and ‘H.V.’ bottom right (inside plate-mark); image includes words inscribed by the artist in watercolour ‘LIBER STUDIORUM’, top centre
Blind-stamped with collector’s mark [blank vertical oval: compare format of Stokes’s ink stamp on verso of present sheet] top left (inside plate-mark)
Stamped in black ‘CXVII V’ bottom right
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Charles Stokes
Bequeathed to Mary Constance Clarke 1853
Henry Vaughan by 1878
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and J.C. Easling, untitled, published Turner, 23 May 1812 (see main catalogue entry)
Turner’s design for the frontispiece to the Liber Studiorum incorporates aspects of all the subject categories the series encompassed, as set out on the wrappers in which each part was issued: ‘landscape compositions, viz. historical, mountainous, pastoral, marine, and architectural’.1 Thornbury summed up its purpose: ‘As an overture contains hints of all there will be in an opera, so does this title-page foretell much that follows.’2 However, Turner would not necessarily have considered the design at the outset, as it was not issued until some five years into the Liber project (see publication details below), allowing him to include details retrospectively referencing specific elements from the published plates.
The pictorial space is logical, but imaginary. As Gillian Forrester notes, the composition is in a long tradition of illustrated frontispieces bringing together various elements relevant to the text in a decorative or symbolic design (which Turner was to follow again to introduce his set of historical Fairfaxiana watercolour illustrations for Walter Fawkes).3 Undergrowth and water plants embody the rustic ‘Pastoral’ category. Similar lily pads and bulrushes appear in Turner’s 1819 vignette watercolour for the cover of Fawkes’s copy of his collection catalogue (private collection;4 see also etching by F.C. Lewis: Tate T06031); they have been interpreted in that context as visual puns on the palettes and brushes which also appear, as ‘an almost competitive dialogue between Nature and Art’.5 In the present design there are similar analogies between the natural plant forms and their classical architectural equivalents.
The blank Gothic arcade evokes Rivaux Abbey (for drawing see Tate D09154; Turner Bequest CXVII Z) and the Romanesque, Holy Island Cathedral (Tate D08115; Turner Bequest CXVI N); together they establish the ‘Architectural’ framework. Everyday objects are mingled with symbols; what appear to be a basket of eggs and a pie, barrels and a spade lie below the central picture. The fish in the foreground do not appear elsewhere in the Liber, though they echo such still life elements in a number of Turner’s beach scenes such as Sun Rising through Vapour; Fishermen Cleaning and Selling Fish, exhibited in 1807 (National Gallery, London);6 the oars and sail-like banners beside them (on which the Liber engravers were listed in the subsequent print) also evoke the ‘Marine’.
A caduceus (a wand with twin snakes, attribute of Mercury, messenger of the gods) is propped against the classical tomb or monument at the left, together with a thyrsus7 (a staff or spear tipped with an ornamental pine-cone, associated with Bacchus) between the oars, remnants of the classical past and suggestive of Turner’s ‘EP’ category (probably ‘Elevated Pastoral’; see general Liber introduction). The peacock and the classical entablature half buried in the undergrowth pre-date the published Liber plate of Isis to which they appear to relate, though Turner may have already begun work on that design (Tate D08168; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII N) from an existing painting, and similar fragments lie in the foreground of the earlier Temple of Minerva Medica (see Tate D08128; Turner Bequest CXVII A).
The central picture (to be read as a painting rather than as a window in the architectural setting), encompasses the ‘Historical’ category, with ‘Mountainous’, ‘Architectural’ and ‘Marine’ elements; its frame is ‘a standard neoclassical design incorporating an anthemion [stylised honeysuckle] pattern and shell corners’ with ‘each flower in an outline ogee arch’, thus embodying both nature and art.8 The episode from Greek myth (and also related by the Roman poet Ovid)9 usually known as the ‘Rape of Europa’ is shown, with Europa carried out to sea – and thence to Crete – on the back of the god Zeus in the form of a bull. The subject had been treated extensively by earlier artists including Titian (circa 1487–1576) and Veronese (1528–1588).10 Claude Lorrain had also painted the subject, and recorded variants in the Liber Veritatis,11 an important source for a number of Turner’s Liber designs through Richard Earlom’s engraved edition (see general Liber Studiorum introduction), but his interpretation was quite different;12 Titian’s version of 1560–2 (Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, Boston), showing Europa reclining on the swimming bull’s back as her attendants watch from the shore, had been shown in London in the late 1790s and may have influenced Turner’s design.13
In Modern Painters, Ruskin saw the frontispiece as suffused with the pessimism he perceived in Turner’s work:
Silent, always with a bitter silence, disdaining to tell his meaning, when he saw there was no ear to receive it, Turner only indicated [his] purpose by slight words of contemptuous anger, when he heard of any one trying to obtain this or the other separate subject as more beautiful than the rest. “What is the use of them,” he said, “but together?” The meaning of the entire book was symbolized in the frontispiece, which he engraved with his own hand: Tyre at sunset, with the Rape of Europa, indicating the symbolism of the decay of Europe by that of Tyre, its beauty passing away into terror and judgment (Europa being the mother of Minos and Rhadamanthus).14
Later, he interpreted it elaborately as an
epitome of what the nineteenth century had to meditate on, viz. Classical architecture fallen, Norman architecture standing, with Gothic above it, confusion of rustic or familiar objects surrounding these, and a picture at the centre into which all of these are supposed to be combined at the end of their existence – the whole signed and symbolized, as it were, by the peacock in the character of Phoenix, or Resurrection. ... the Classical architecture is represented as fallen, but the Norman standing, meaning that the faith in which alone true architecture can be built has perished with the nations who held it in Greece and Italy, but was yet living in England and Normandy.15
Stopford Brooke concurred with Ruskin: ‘When pride and beauty are at their height, they are doomed.’16 Conversely, Forrester has argued that elements of the design can equally be read as ‘emblems of flourishing nature or allusions to the cyclical nature of civilisation’, thus alluding to ‘the self-regenerating potential of art.’17 The peacock has also been read as a symbol of ‘pride and vanity’ and by extension ‘the fall from grace that introduced not only sin but also time into the world.’18 Even the title of the series is partly obscured by vegetation sprouting from the arcade.
No highly-finished Liber-type tonal drawing for the composition is known. The present work is an impression of the third state of Turner’s outline etching, carefully worked up with watercolour as a guide for the print’s mezzotint engraver. There are two preliminary studies in the Bullard Bequest at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. One is in pen and ink (Boston M22706),19 about the same height as the Liber engraving, but squarer and very sketchy. The central image is of a beach with a town and mountains beyond (not unlike the final design, though reversed) and ships in the bay, with affinities with the early Liber design Scene on the French Coast (for drawing see Tate D08104; Turner Bequest CXVI C); Conway Castle has been suggested as another inspiration.20 The second Boston drawing (M22707)21 is on the same scale as Turner’s etched outline and very much closer in detail, and has been squared up (probably for transfer to the copper plate), though the final design was extended a little to the right; the drawing has a blank, framed space outlined at its centre. The title is written in the tablet above in a tentative Gothic script, with the categories ‘Historical, Mountainous, [?Pasto]ral, Marine and Architectural’ just below, above the central frame; and below the frame ‘LANDSCAPES | IMW Turner RA PP’ (in the final design, Turner adopted Roman capitals for the title tablet, and omitted the other inscriptions); he also included the names of his engravers on the tomb or monument to the left, as well as beginning to list them on the adjacent banner, where they ultimately appeared. Turner’s friend (and pioneering Liber scholar) Charles Stokes once owned the two Boston drawings, and a proof etching with the central composition of Europa in pencil and similar to the published design, though reversed (also at Boston, M22708),22 as well as the present work.23
Turner had made a rough draft of title lettering for the Liber, eventually adapted for each part’s wrappers, in the Shipwreck (1) sketchbook (Tate D05385; Turner Bequest LXXXVII 10), within a palette-like oval: ‘No.1 of | Liber – Studiorum | being | Studies for Pictures in History | Mountains Pastoral Marine | and Architectural Landscapes | Price 15’ (see beginning of current entry, and general Liber introduction). That he also intended from an early stage to issue a frontispiece is apparent from his note, ‘10 Frontispiece’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12158; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24a), at the head of part 10 in a draft schedule of the projected first half of the series (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)24 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808, 25 although there appears to be no evidence that Turner had begun work on an actual design at that point.
The etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner, with the central image also engraved by him and the remainder by J.C. Easling, bears the publication date 23 May 1812. It was issued free to Liber subscribers, lettered ‘This FRONTISPIECE to | LIBER STUDIORUM [on the plaque within the image] | is most respectfully presented to the Subscribers, by I,, M,, W,, Turner.’ with part 10 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.47–51;26 see also Tate D08151–D08154; Turner Bequest CXVII W, X, Y, Z), to mark the completion of the first half of the projected series of one hundred plates in twenty parts. Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00911) and the published engraving (A00912).
Towards the end of his career, Turner developed the central, framed composition from the Frontispiece as one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see general Liber introduction); the painting, known as Europa and the Bull, is in the Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio.27
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1858 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi28 (see general Liber introduction). The print included a dedication to John Ruskin on the banner at the left of the composition. Turner’s design was adapted by Frank Short in 1885 as the frontispiece29 for his Twelve Subjects from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Etched and Mezzotinted by Frank Short (published by Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery, London, between 1885 and 1888), the first series of his Liber interpretations (Tate T05042;30 see general Liber introduction). Short faithfully transcribed the central Europa design in mezzotint but not the architectural setting, though he retained Turner’s peacock.
The present sheet was owned by Turner’s friend Charles Stokes,31 and bequeathed to Mary Constance Clarke in 1853,32 with the recto bearing her inscription;33 their marks also appear on the verso, as described below. It was in Henry Vaughan’s collection by 1878,34 and is marked with his initials.35
Forrester 1996, reproduced p.12 fig.3; similar wrapper held with Tate’s Liber prints (no accession number).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by his Friends and Fellow-Academicians, London 1862 [1861], vol.I, p.276.
Forrester 1996, pp.45, 46 note 2; see also p.31; ‘Fairfaxiana’ frontispiece: Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.367 no.582, reproduced; Luke Herrmann, Ruskin and Turner: A Study of Ruskin as a Collector of Turner, Based on his Gifts to the University of Oxford; Incorporating a Catalogue Raisonné of the Turner Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, London 1968, pp.94–5 no.77, pl.XVII.
Not catalogued in Wilton 1979.
Jan Piggott, Turner’s Vignettes, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, p.34.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.53–4 no.69 pl.79.
Brooke 1885, p.2.
Forrester 1996, p.46 and note 3.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, II.833–75.
‘Europa’, in Jane Davidson Reid and Chris Rohmann, The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–1990s, London 1993, vol.I, pp.421–9.
Nos.111, 136, 144 (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–117, 142 and 150).
See Marcel Röthlisberger, Claude Lorrain: The Paintings, London 1961, vol.I, pp.276–7, 326–8.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.303, as cited in Forrester 1996, p.47 note 6.
Cook and Wedderburn VII 1903, pp.434–5.
Ibid., XXI 1906, pp.215–16, 223.
Brooke 1885, p.4.
Forrester 1996, p.46.
Finley 1999, p.49
Forrester 1996, p.45 no.1 i, reproduced, as ‘M22707.1’; Joseph R. Goldyne, J.M.W. Turner: Works on Paper from American Collections, exhibition catalogue, University Art Museum, Berkeley, California 1975, p.163 no.L49, reproduced p.167.
Forrester 1996, p.46 and note 5.
Ibid., pp.45, 46, as ‘M22707.3’; Goldyne 1975, p.163 no.L50, reproduced p.167; Herrmann 1990, p.59, reproduced p.58 pl.44.
Forrester 1996, p.45 no.1ii, reproduced; Goldyne 1975, p.163 no.L51, reproduced p.168.
Herrmann 1990, p.254 note 72.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, p.13.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.97–106; 1906, pp.114–24; Finberg 1924, pp.185–204.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.302–3 no.514, pl.516 (colour); see Shanes 1990, pp.292–4.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.[231]; Finberg 1924, p.4.
Martin Hardie, The Liber Studiorum Mezzotints of Sir Frank Short, R.A., P.R.E. after J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Catalogue & Introduction, London 1938, pp.43–4 no.1.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.69.
Herrmann 1990, p.254 note 72.
See Frits Lugt, Les Marques de collections de dessins & d’estampes ..., Amsterdam 1921, pp.81, 515.
Rawlinson 1906, p.6 under collector’s mark no.1; Lugt 1921, p.81 no.449 (each giving ‘Mary’ in full).
Rawlinson 1878, p.8.
Lugt 1921, p.246 no.1380.
Technical Notes:
The printing ink of the etched outline comprises brown, red and black pigments. Tonal washes were followed by scratching-out for details and the lettering of the title plaque; the overall mid-brown colour results from the use of a single burnt sienna shade in the washes.1 Rather than being drawn in pen and ink at this stage of the design process, as Finberg thought,2 the outline of the central design had already been etched by Turner, who also went on to engrave this portion of the finished plate.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Finberg 1924, p.3.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in ink ‘Mary Constance Clarke’1 bottom left (inside plate-mark); inscribed in pencil ‘This is in a state perfectly Unique being as much a drawing | as an Etching | & the gem of Mr Stokes’s collection’ bottom centre (above and below plate-mark), ‘No 90 | V | 1’ [latter circled] centre, and ‘CXVII .V | Plate 1 etching sepia’ bottom left
Stamped in black with Charles Stokes’s collector’s mark [?chess piece or crowned helmet within vertical oval]2 bottom right inside plate-mark

Matthew Imms
August 2008

Rawlinson 1906, p.6 under collector’s mark no.1; Lugt 1921, p.81 no.449, reproduced.
Rawlinson 1906, p.6 collector’s mark no.1, reproduced; Lugt 1921, p.515 no.2758, reproduced.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Frontispiece to the ‘Liber Studiorum’ c.1810–11 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-frontispiece-to-the-liber-studiorum-r1131704, accessed 21 June 2024.