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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Mounted Figures on Wet Sand c.1841-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Mounted Figures on Wet Sand c.1841–2
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 35
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 214 x 293 mm
Inscribed by Turner(?) in pencil ‘G’ upper left, and ‘G. [..?] wet sand’ lower left
Stamped in blank ‘CCLXXX-35’ bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘35’ bottom right
Stamped with the Turner Bequest monogram lower right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of thirteen loose sheets found grouped together, a number of which are believed to be ideas for compositions relating to the life of Napoleon; for more information see the Introduction to this section.
This loose colour study broadly lays out the yellowish land and blue water of a landscape; there are few details to suggest a particular subject, Napoleonic or otherwise. Turner’s inscription may, however, provide a clue. Jan Piggott connected the words ‘wet sand’, legible in the lower left, with an incident within Scott’s Life of Napoleon, which Turner had earlier made illustrations for (see the Introduction to this section).1 The passage in question refers to an incident during Napoleon’s time in Egypt, when he and his men were apparently almost drowned in the Red Sea, finding their horses ‘more than breast–high in the water’.2 The Biblical echoes of the drowning of the pharaoh and his army helped to make this an often repeated legend. According to the memoir quoted by Scott, Napoleon rescued the whole party, who, upon their horses, were able to make their way to dry land and to reach Suez.3 It seems plausible this tale would have attracted Turner as a potential subject, although the unfinished nature of the study means the suggestion remains speculative.
Turner added in pencil the letter ‘G’ twice on the sheet, as well as the letter ‘N’, which has generally been presumed to stand for Napoleon.
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Sir Walter Scott, Life of Napoleon, Vol.III, in Miscellaneous Prose, Vol.X, Edinburgh 1836, p.348.
Ibid, p.348.
Technical notes:
Some possible further inscriptions in Turner’s hand can be seen on the lower left of the sheet, below the blue water. These are not legible. There is evidence of finger print marks in the blue area of watercolour on the right: finger and thumb marks are visible on various other sheets in the Turner Bequest.
Blank, save for inscriptions: inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXXX 35’ lower right

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2018

How to cite

Elizabeth Jacklin, ‘Mounted Figures on Wet Sand c.1841–2 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2018, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, November 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-mounted-figures-on-wet-sand-r1195853, accessed 24 July 2024.