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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Deluge c.1815

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Deluge circa 1815
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII X
Watercolour on white wove lightweight writing paper, 204 x 284 mm
Watermark ‘J Whatman | 1807’
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
F. Halsted
Henry Vaughan by 1872
(see main catalogue entry)
Turner’s design, engraved for the Liber Studiorum but not published, was based on his large painting The Deluge, possibly exhibited at his gallery in 1805, and shown at the Royal Academy in 1813, after which it remained in his studio (Tate N00493).1 The episode derives from the Biblical account of the Flood and Noah’s escape in the ark,2 seen beyond the trees to the left in the painting, concentrating on the passage in which ‘all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.’3 Turner was influenced by the dismal gloom of the 1660s version of the subject by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), which he had studied on his Continental tour of 1802 (Musée du Louvre, Paris);4 the figures (as depicted in the painting and in modified form in the Liber engraving, though barely indicated in the present drawing) may have derived from earlier Venetian models such as Titian (circa 1487–1576) and Veronese (1528–1588).5
The drawing is a very free transcription of the oil, concentrating on the storm and flood waters; of more than a dozen figures clinging to dry land in the right foreground of the painting only two are clearly transcribed, while the roof timbers in the centre of the original composition and the similar number of figures struggling in the waves on and around them are omitted altogether. The rocky outcrops top left and right are freely developed from the painting, as is the single, windswept tree. The distant pitched roof in the centre is perhaps intended as that of the ark, but in the subsequent mezzotint the shape becomes a mountain, and the ark is shown (as in the painting) beyond the tree, perhaps prompted by two fortuitous blots at that point in the drawing.
The composition is noted, as ‘Deluge’, with other ‘Historical’ Liber subjects inside the back cover of the Tabley Sketchbook, No.1 of about 1808 (Tate D40721; Turner Bequest CIII).6 It also appears, again as ‘Deluge’, in a list of ‘Historical’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12171; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 31); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.7 It is noted again, as ‘Deluge’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX).8
Only one contemporary proof of the engraving is known, carried out entirely in mezzotint without the etched outline customary in earlier Liber plates; more impressions were printed after Turner’s death. The print is usually attributed to Turner alone, although Finberg suggested that Henry Dawe, one of Turner’s regular Liber engravers, might have had a hand in it,9 but the absence of a more detailed drawing and the reintroduction – and significant modification – of figures from the painting suggest Turner working closely from the painting himself.
For other designs for unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91),10 see Tate D08170–D08177, D25451; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, CCLXIII 328; and Tate N02782, N03631). Tate holds an impression printed in 1898 (Tate A01155).
Between 1936 and 1938, Frank Short etched and mezzotinted this composition,11 as one of his interpretations of the unpublished Liber plates (Tate does not hold any impressions; see general Liber introduction).
The present work was owned in the nineteenth century by F. Halsted,12 and came into Henry Vaughan’s possession by 1872.13
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.43–4 no.55 pl.65 (colour).
Genesis 7:10–24.
Ibid., verses 21 and 22.
See Butlin and Joll 1984, p.44, and Forrester 1996, p.154; see also Wilton 1980, pp.71–2, 136, 137.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.44.
Forrester 1996, p.158 (transcribed).
Ibid., pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.353.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Hardie 1938, p.68 no.34, reproduced p[127] pl.XXIV A.
Forrester 1996, p.154.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.[54]
Technical notes:
The sheet has been identified as once being part of the Studies for Liber sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXV),1 other pages of which also bear the ‘J Whatman | 1807’ watermark; as it has been trimmed to the image as engraved (intact pages in the sketchbook being 230 x 381 mm), it is not possible to establish its original location in the book by matching it to the stubs that remain there. Washes were followed by brushstrokes, medium-rich and applied wet. The overall colour is a cool brown, comprising one umber pigment.2 The distant mountainside is partly composed of almost arbitrary blots, and several rapid strokes in the sky echo the dynamics of the storm in the painting.
Forrester 1996, pp.15, 24 note 82 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); see also Bower, Tate conservation files.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXVIII X | Pl 88’ top left, ‘88’ bottom left, and ‘The Deluge | JMW Turner R.A. | F. Halsted’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVIII – X’ bottom left
There are some slight marks bleeding through from the most heavily worked lines and washes of the recto.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Deluge c.1815 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2006, 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-the-deluge-r1131786, accessed 23 June 2024.