This sparing watercolour study has been identified by Jan Piggott as a preliminary sketch for O’Connor’s Child
circa 1835 (National Galleries of Scotland), one of Turner’s vignette illustrations for Edward Moxon’s 1837 edition of Campbell’s Poetical Works
The finished version of this subject was engraved by Edward Goodall to accompany the verses of the same title.3
The poem is the lamentation of the daughter of an Irish clan chief whose ‘basely born’ lover, Connocht Moran, has been killed by her scornful brothers. In revenge, she brings about the deaths of her brothers and spends the rest of her days mourning her lost love.
In the finished version of O’Connor’s Child, Turner shows the heroine mourning at her lover’s grave whilst her brothers march to battle the English where they will soon meet their deaths. This preliminary study appears to respond to an earlier moment in Campbell’s narrative. At the beginning of the poem, Campbell describes the solitary heroine mourning by the sea:
As winds that moan at night forlorn
Along the isles of Fion-Gall,
When, for O’Connor’s child to mourn,
The harper told, how lone, how far
From any mansion’s twinkling star,
From any path of social men,
Why lingers she from Erin’s host,
So far on Galway’s shipwreck’d coast;
Why wanders she a huntress wild –
O’Connor’s pale and lovely child?
Dishevell’d are her raven locks;
On Connocht Moran’s name she calls;
And oft amidst the lonely rocks
She sings sweet madrigals.
(Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, 1837, pp.67–68)
In the study, the forlorn figure of O’Connor’s daughter is shown kneeling and perhaps weeping before a tempestuous sea. The pink contour of Connor Castle, which reappears in the finished illustration, is just visible in the upper right-hand corner. In contrast to the pale colours and simple composition seen here, the final version of O’Connor’s Child is painted in a dark palette with dramatically contrasting white highlights and exhibits fine brushwork detail.
Five other vignette studies may also relate to O’Connor’s Child
. One of them shows the heroine and her lover just before they are captured by her murderous brothers (Tate D27575
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 58), while three others appear to be variations on the study seen here (see Tate D27557
, and D27574
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 40, 42, and 57). The final example appears to show figures in a wood (see Tate D27591
; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 74).
In common with other preparatory sketches for Campbell’s Poetical Works
this work is painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style. It was once part of a parcel of studies 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
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.6