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' c.1835-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study for ‘Kosciusko’, for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ circa 1835–6
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 56
Pencil and watercolour on off-white machine-made cartridge paper, 179 x 226 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(56’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 56’ 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.
Whereas Turner’s finished design shows Kosciusko and an allegorical figure of Poland standing before a besieged and smoldering Warsaw, this study seems to respond to an earlier moment in Campbell’s narrative, when he describes the great leader delivering his call to arms:
Warsaw’s last champion from her height survey’d,
Wide o’er the fields, a waste of ruin laid, –
Oh! Heaven! he cried, my bleeding country save! –
Is there no hand on high to shield the brave?
Yet, though destruction sweep those lovely plains,
Rise, fellow-men! our country yet remains!
By that dread name, we wave the sword on high!
And swear for her to live! – with her to die!
He said, and on the rampart-heights array’d
His trusty warriors, few, but undismay’d;
Firm-paced and slow, a horrid front they form,
Still as the breeze, but dreadful as the storm;
Low murmuring sounds along their banners fly,
Revenge, or death, – the watch-word and reply;
Then peal’d the notes, omnipotent to charm,
And the loud tocsin toll’d their last alarm!
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, p.13)
The dark figure of Kosciusko stands with his arm outstretched as if to deliver an oration or a military command. The pale mass of agitated brushstrokes in the bottom portion of the study evokes a crowd of armed figures. In the background are the square tower and vertical supports of the Praga Bridge which reappear in the lower right corner of Turner’s finished version of this illustration. Turner made two other preliminary studies for Kosciusko (see Tate D27562; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 45 and Tate D27566; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 49), both of which are more closely linked in subject matter and palette to Turner’s final design.
The work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour studies in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preliminary sketches for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. This study was once part of a parcel of works described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.4 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’.5
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).
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 ‘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-r1133402, accessed 28 May 2024.