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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Study for a Classical Landscape Composition, Similar to 'Mercury and Herse' 1805

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 4 Recto:
Study for a Classical Landscape Composition, Similar to ‘Mercury and Herse’ 1805
Turner Bequest XCIII 4
Pen and ink and brown wash on white wove paper, prepared with a grey wash, 171 x 190 mm (irregular)
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘4’ bottom left, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘XCIII 4’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg, Butlin and Joll and Hill note the similarity of this composition, of a classical landscape with a procession passing through an arch and crossing a bridge on the left, to Mercury and Herse exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 (on the London art market in 2005).1 More elaborate, worked up with brown wash and treated on landscape format, this study may have evolved from the upright versions in pen outline in the contemporary Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (beginning on folio 57, Tate D05581; Turner Bequest XC 57).2 The right portion of the present leaf has been torn off, and if this was done by Turner himself it would show him reverting to the idea of an upright composition, as indeed he adopted for the picture. Alternatively, if the subject-matter was undecided at this stage, he may have wanted to consider the remaining part of the design in relation to the study on the following leaf (D05774) which he used for another historic landscape, Dido and Aeneas exhibited at the Academy in 1814 but probably painted earlier (Tate N00494).3 Overlapping folio 5, the remaining portion of folio 4 provides an alternative treatment of the left half of the composition.

David Blayney Brown
October 2007

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.80–2 no.114 (pl.122); Sotheby’s sale, 5 July 2005, lot 40.
See catalogue notes for the subject of Mercury and Herse.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.92–3 no.129 (pl.135).

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Study for a Classical Landscape Composition, Similar to ‘Mercury and Herse’ 1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, October 2007, 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-study-for-a-classical-landscape-composition-similar-to-r1129993, accessed 25 June 2021.