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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Vignette Study of Figures for Campbell's 'Poetical Works' c.1835-6

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Vignette Study of Figures for Campbell’s ‘Poetical Works’ circa 1835–6
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 50
Watercolour, approximately 100 x 170 mm on off-white machine-made cartridge paper, 180 x 226 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘(50’ bottom right
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 50’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
A hunched human figure and a mass of trees are the only discernible subjects in this hastily executed study. The subject is too vague to be conclusively linked to any of Turner’s finished vignette illustrations, however, the work is one of a group of more than thirty watercolour studies in the Turner Bequest that appear to be preparatory sketches for Campbell’s Poetical Works. They are all painted on cheap, lightweight paper and executed in a rough, loose style.
The study can also be linked to another sketch (see Tate D27583; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 66), tentatively identified by David Blayney Brown as preliminary design for A Tempest (Tate D27719; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 202), a vignette illustration which Turner designed for Rogers’s Poems (1834). This watercolour shares the same palette and painting style and it is therefore possible that it is related.
The work was once part of a parcel of studies described by John Ruskin as ‘A.B. 40. PO. Vignette beginnings, once on a roll. Worthless’.1 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’.2
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 of Figures 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-of-figures-for-campbells-poetical-works-r1133428, accessed 27 May 2024.