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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Vignette Study; ?for Campbell's 'Poetical Works' c.1835-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study; ?for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ circa 1835–6
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 66
Watercolour, approximately 135 x 185 mm on off-white machine-made cartridge paper, 180 x 226 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(66’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 66’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Little can be discerned in this hastily executed study, although it may show a group of figures on a steep incline. Although the subject is too vague to be conclusively linked to any finished illustration, the work appears to be one of a group of more than thirty preparatory sketches in the Turner Bequest for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style.
Jan Piggott has suggested that the scene could be a preliminary study for Lord Ullin’s Daughter (National Gallery of Scotland),1 (see Tate D27580; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 63). However, there seems to be little pictorial basis for this assertion. The study has also been tentatively identified by David Blayney Brown as a preliminary sketch for A Tempest, a vignette illustration which Turner designed for Rogers’s Poems (1834) (see Tate D27719; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 202).
The work was once part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.2 For an explanation of his meaning of ‘once on a roll’ see the technical notes above. Finberg records how Ruskin later described his phrasing in a letter to Ralph Nicholson Wornum as ‘horrible’, adding ‘I never meant it to be permanent’.3
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1280; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.59.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Ibid., vol.I, p.xi.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower has noted that this study is made on off-white low-grade machine-made cartridge paper. The maker is unknown and there is no watermark. This paper would have been relatively cheap to buy and could have been purchased from a colourman, cut off from a roll to the desired size. Turner has used the ‘felt’ side of the paper which has slightly more texture than the ‘wire’ side, allowing better adhesion of pigment and graphite to the surface of the sheet. Many of Turner’s vignette studies were made on a similar grade of machine-made paper, and the artist employed the ‘felt’ side on all of them.1
Bower 1999, p.59.
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 40 P | O’ bottom right

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Vignette Study; ?for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ c.1835–6 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 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-vignette-study-for-campbells-poetical-works-r1133430, accessed 20 May 2024.