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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Vignette Study for 'Kosciusko', for Campbell's 'Poetical Works' circa 1835-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study for ‘Kosciusko’, for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ circa 1835–6
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 49
Watercolour on off-white machine-made cartridge paper, 178 x 225 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(49’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 49’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This unfinished watercolour has been identified by Jan Piggott as one of three preparatory studies for Kosciusko,1 a vignette illustration for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Thomas Campbell’s Poetical Works, circa 1835 (National Gallery of Scotland).2 The design was engraved by Edward Goodall and accompanies the first part of Campbell’s famous poem ‘The Pleasures of Hope’, in which the poet celebrates the Republican hero Tadeusz Kosciusko (1746–1814).3 In 1794, Kosciusko led an unsuccessful uprising to free his native Poland from Russian control. Turner’s finished vignette shows Kosciusko and an allegorical figure of Poland standing before a besieged and smoldering Warsaw. The scene complements Campbell’s tragic description of the defeat:
Oh, bloodiest picture in the book of Time,
Sarmatia fell,
unwept, without a crime;
Found not a generous friend, a pitying foe,
Strength in her arms, now mercy in her woe!
Dropp’d from her nerveless grasp the shatter’d spear,
Closed her bright eye, and curbed her high career; –
HOPE, for a season, bade the world farewell,
And Freedom shriek’d – as KOSCIUSKO fell!
The sun went down, nor ceased the carnage there,
Tumultuous murder shook the midnight air –
On Prague’s proud arch the fires of ruin glow,
His blood-dyed waters murmuring far below
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, pp.14–15)
The study closely resembles the bottom right-hand corner of the finished design. The dark horizontal structure on the right seems to be the Praga Bridge (Praga is the easternmost suburb of Warsaw where the uprising took place). The crossing is peopled by the silhouettes of skirmishing figures and backlit by a billowing inferno. Turner references Campbell’s description of the River Vistula’s ‘blood-dyed waters’ in his depiction of a violent orange and red sky above and the murky grey and red reflection below. Above the scene is the faint hint of a full moon. On the left is a triumphal arch described in the poem as ‘Prague’s [Praga’s] proud arch’. In the final watercolour this is placed further back in the centre of the composition.
There are two other studies in the Turner Bequest that relate to Kosciusko (see Tate D27562; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 45 and Tate D27573; Turner Bequest CCLXX 56).
This sketch is closely related to the former. Both works show similar subjects and share the same blue and blazing orange sky. John Gage has formerly associated them with Turner’s sketches of the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 (see Tate; Turner Bequest) and two additional studies of fiery sunset skies (see Tate D27596; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 79 and Tate D27600; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 83).4 However, various differences in palette, composition, and date (D27596 bears an 1841 watermark), suggest that they are not in fact related.
The study is one of a group of more than thirty watercolours in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preliminary ideas for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This work was part of a parcel of sketches described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.5 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’.6
Piggott 1993, p.95.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.1273; reproduced in colour in Mungo Campbell, A Complete Catalogue of Works by Turner in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1993, p.56.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.615. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04767).
Gage 1974, p.41.
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 unknown hands in pencil ‘123 | b’ centre right and ‘AB 40 P | O’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 49’ lower left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Vignette Study for ‘Kosciusko’, 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-kosciusko-for-campbells-poetical-works-r1133401, accessed 28 May 2024.