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 nine other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27630
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 113).
The study appears to show a group of bathing female nudes surrounded by an Egyptian landscape, including some distant pyramids. The scene may illustrate Moore’s description of women bathing by the Nile in his prose tale The Epicurean:
It was near sunset, when, in passing a small temple on the shore, whose porticoes were not full of the evening light, we saw issuing from a thicket of acanthus near it, a train of young maidens gracefully linked together in the dance by stems of the lotus held at arms’ length between them. Their tresses were also wreathed with this gay emblem of the season, and in such profusion were its white flowers twisted round their waists and arms, that they might have been taken, as they lightly bounded along the bank, for Nymphs of the Nile, then freshly risen from their bright gardens under the wave.
(The Epicurean, 1839, pp.116–7)
Jan Piggott has also linked the details to part of Moore’s accompanying poem, Alciphron:
Oft dipping in the Nile, when faint with heat,
That leaf, from which its waters drink most sweet.
While haply, not far off, beneath a bank
Of blossoming acacias, many a prank
Is played in the cool current by a train
Of laughing nymphs
(Alciphron, 1839, p.14)
Like many of Turner’s studies for The Epicurean, this subject was never developed into a finished illustration.