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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner 'Sauve Qui Peut': Column of Red Figures, Some on Horseback c.1841-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
‘Sauve Qui Peut’: Column of Red Figures, Some on Horseback c.1841–2
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 33
Watercolour on paper, 216 x 290 mm
Inscribed in pencil by Turner ‘Sauve Qui Peut’ lower left
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX-33’ bottom right
Inscribed in red ink ‘33’ 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.
A clue to the subject of this indistinct colour study is provided by the inscription, which appears to read ‘Sauve Qui Peut’, a phrase indicative of general panic that translates as ‘every man for himself’, or ‘save yourself if you can’. Jan Piggott has noted that Turner’s use of this phrase may relate to a couple of passages within Walter Scott’s ‘Life of Napoleon’, which was published within his Miscellaneous Prose, a text Turner had provided illustrations for in 1834–6.1 Firstly, Scott added in the notes for his account of the fall of Paris in 1814: ‘About two o’clock, a general cry of sauve qui peut was heard on the boulevards; this caused a general and confused flight, which spread like the undulations of a wave, even beyond the Pont Neuf.’2 Secondly, during his discussion of the Battle of Waterloo, Scott noted the ‘fiction’ propogated by Napoleon’s supporters that the battle was lost due to the raising of the cry of ‘sauve qui peut’ by ‘unknown persons’.3
Turner’s sketchy sheet gives little away beyond the inscription: hills and possibly other structures are hastily suggested. The reds used in the palette, as well as the suggestion of figures, are suggestive of a battle scene.
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Sir Walter Scott, Life of Napoleon, Vol.VII, in Miscellaneous Prose, Vol.XV, Edinburgh 1836, p.157.
Sir Walter Scott, Life of Napoleon, Vol.IX, in Miscellaneous Prose, Vol.XVI, Edinburgh 1836, p.19.
Blank, save for inscriptions: inscribed in pencil ‘CCLXXX 33’ lower right.

Elizabeth Jacklin
September 2018

How to cite

Elizabeth Jacklin, ‘‘Sauve Qui Peut’: Column of Red Figures, Some on Horseback 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-sauve-qui-peut-column-of-red-figures-some-on-horseback-r1195851, accessed 24 July 2024.