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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Vignette Study for Moore's 'The Epicurean'; Embarkation for the Festival of the Moon c.1837-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Embarkation for the Festival of the Moon circa 1837–8
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 132
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 105 x 85 mm on three-ply laminated Foolscap Bristol drawing board, 381 x 306 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘132’ bottom right
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘CCLXXX’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 132’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This sketch belongs to a large group of preliminary studies which relate to Turner’s vignette illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. The study shares the same size, palette, and style as five other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27647; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 130).
Here, Turner is illustrating part of Moore’s fantastical prose tale, The Epicurean. The scene shown here appears to be the embarkation for the Festival of the Moon, which the hero, Alciphron, witnesses soon after his arrival in Alexandria. Turner made at least one other study of this same subject, in which he presented a more focused view of the boat-filled bay (see Tate D27648; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 131). In contrast, this study shows a distant, elevated view of the city and its activities. Furthermore, unlike the blazing sun of the other sketch, the artist has here depicted a moonlit, nocturnal setting as described in Moore’s text.1
Jan Piggott has noted that the composition bears a considerable resemblance to another vignette study relating to the Moore commission, in which Turner shows of a group Egyptian women bathing in the Nile (see Tate D27632; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 115).2
Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem, London 1839, p.30.
Piggott 1993, p.96.
Technical notes:
Like many of Turner’s studies for Moore’s The Epicurean, this sketch has been made on three-ply Bristol board, a type of board sold by most artists’ colourmen. The support exhibits three watermarks, ‘Slade | 1836’, and a circular blind embossed stamp, ‘Bristol | [image of crown] | Board’ top left. The board has been laminated with handmade paper which has been trimmed to Foolscap size (nominally 15 x 12 inches). Peter Bower has identified the maker as the William & Thomas Slade Mill, the papermakers who succeeded William Allee at Hurstbourne Priors Mill in Hampshire.1
Bower 1999, pp.120–1; for a general technical discussion of nineteenth-century boards see ibid., pp.114–17.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘131 | a’ centre right and ‘D27649’ bottom left and ‘AB 117 P | M’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 132’ lower left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Vignette Study for Moore’s ‘The Epicurean’; Embarkation for the Festival of the Moon c.1837–8 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-moores-the-epicurean-embarkation-for-the-r1133848, accessed 17 September 2021.