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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner ?Pyre and Sail-Boat c.1841-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
?Pyre and Sail-Boat c.1841–2
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 31
Pencil and watercolour on white wove paper, 215 x 286 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘[?]Forward [..?] [..?] Dido’
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX-31’ bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘31’ bottom right
Stamped with 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.
Turner inscribed this colour study with various words, the most legible of which appears to read ‘Dido’. Although the indistinct nature of this study means ruminations on Turner’s subject matter are likely to remain speculative, a possible association between the apparent subject of the unfinished study and ‘Dido’ as she is described within Virgil’s Aeneid may come with Dido’s final act: when Aeneas left Carthage with his fleet, the queen ascended a pyre of her husband’s possessions and ended her own life with his sword, the fire becoming her funeral pyre. This could also make sense of the presence of what looks to be a sail to the left.
If Dido is indeed the subject explored in this study, the possibility of a Napoleonic subject also being in Turner’s mind should not be entirely excluded: his earlier oils Dido building Carthage (National Gallery, London; 1815) and The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire (Tate N00499; exhibited 1817) saw Turner tackle the theme of the rise and fall of empire in a way that naturally drew comparisons with Napoleon and the events of Turner’s own time. In the case of this study, it may also be relevant that many battles of the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo included, resulted in mass funeral pyres. However, the sheet remains an initial idea rather than a resolved work, and Turner’s inscription, although tantalising, is for the most part barely legible.
Blank, save for small splashes of blue, grey and red, watercolour, and inscriptions: inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXXX 31’ lower right

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2018

How to cite

Elizabeth Jacklin, ‘?Pyre and Sail-Boat 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-pyre-and-sail-boat-r1195849, accessed 17 July 2024.