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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Woman and Tambourine circa 1806-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Woman and Tambourine circa 1806–7
Turner Bequest CXVI B
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 186 x 257 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by J.M.W. Turner and Charles Turner, published J.M.W. Turner, ?11 June 1807
Turner’s design, the first to be published in the Liber Studiorum’s ‘EP’ category (likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ – see general Liber introduction), has been related to his large oil sketch Trees beside the River, with Bridge in the Middle Distance (Tate N02692).1 This in turn derives closely from two pen and wash drawings in the Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook of 1805 (Tate D05577, D05579; Turner Bequest XC 55, 56). There is a loose correspondence between the right-hand sides of these and the present work. The composition has affinities with several of Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis prints after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction) including nos.8 (Landscape with Peasants Crossing a Ford),2 22 (Landscape with River and a Peasant Milking a Goat),3 38 (Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt),4 79 (Pastoral Landscape)5 and 170 (Landscape with Apollo and Mercury)6; and, from an 1802 print in Earlom’s secondary 1802–17 series, no.41.7
In Modern Painters, Ruskin was dismissive of the more Claudian compositions of the Liber: ‘The designs ... are founded first on nature, but in many cases modified by forced imitation of Claude, and fond imitation of Titian. All the worst and feeblest studies in the book ... owe the principal part of their imbecilities to Claude’.8 Stopford Brooke criticised Turner’s combination of ‘material partly supplied by Claude and partly by Nature’ which ‘lacks, therefore, both vitality and unity. ... The road on which the distant figures stand, and the brake on their right, and the trees, are all English, not Italian. They are not classic, and they strike an alien note.’9
Rawlinson appears correct in his interpretation of the subject as ‘the Goddess of Wisdom [and war: Pallas Athene or Athena to the Greeks, Minerva to the Romans] at play with a child (the God of Love? [Eros, or Cupid]) who is dancing to the accompaniment of the tambourine’, noting that when Turner came to etch the design, he added ‘a shield, on which can be plainly seen the Gorgon’s head, and by it the spear and distaff of Pallas ... to emphasize his meaning.’10 Stopford Brooke instead noted that in the print ‘her puissant spear is over-crossed by a thyrsus’,11 a staff tipped with a pine-cone (associated with Dionysus or Bacchus, god of wine), which he had also identified in the Frontispiece of the Liber (see Tate D08150; Vaughan Bequest CXVII V).12 The second seated figure, apparently shown semi-clad in the subsequent print, may be intended as Aphrodite or Venus, with whom Eros/Cupid is usually associated as her son.
Turner made other slight changes in his etching, making the tambourine more prominent and showing the boy turning towards it in response; he also echoed the group in the foreground by altering the two nondescript travellers on the road above in the drawing into a family group including another seated woman and child. The composition may be ‘an allegory of peace’13 in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars during which most of the Liber Studiorum was produced, and of ‘music as spiritual nourishment providing the well-being of mankind’s childhood’.14 Brooke had found it less congenial: ‘It is like a solemn piece of satire, and if Turner had any meaning in it, I scarcely think that he had more than a general grim sense that Wisdom may be made by Love to play the fool.’15
The published plate was untitled; the present title is the customary one established by early scholars and collectors of the Liber, and codified in print in 1872.16 The composition is recorded, as ‘1[:] 2 EP. Bridge’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12156; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 23a), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)17 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.18 It also appears later in the sketchbook, as ‘done Bridge’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).19
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Charles Turner, which does not bear a publication date, was issued to subscribers in part 1, probably on 11 June 180720 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.2–6;21 see also drawings Tate D08102, D08104–D08106, D08110; CXVI A, C, D, E, I). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00915) and the published engraving (A00916). It is the first of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category (see also Tate D08112, D08117, D08122, D08128, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; Turner Bequest CXVI K, P, U, CXVII A, E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N).
Towards the end of his career, Turner used this composition as the basis of one of a series of oil paintings reinterpreting the Liber, perhaps prompted by his limited reprinting of the engravings in 1845 (see Liber introduction); the painting, Landscape: Woman with Tambourine, is in the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Japan.22
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1858 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi23 (see general Liber introduction).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.118 no.169, pl.169 (colour); see Forrester 1996, p.48.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.I, pl.8; from 1636 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–14: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, p.56, reproduced pl.8).
Ibid., I, pl.22; Forrester 1996, p.48 no.3iii, reproduced p.49; from 1637–8 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–28: Kitson, p.65, reproduced pl.22).
Ibid., I, pl.38; from 1639 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–44: Kitson, p.[76], reproduced pl.38).
Ibid., I, pl.79; from 1644 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–85: Kitson, p.101, reproduced pl.79).
Ibid., II, pl.170; from 1666 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–176: Kitson, p.158, reproduced pl.170).
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1819, pl.41; from a drawing then in Earl Spencer’s collection.
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.399.
Brooke 1885, p.10.
Rawlinson 1878, p.12.
Brooke 1885, p.11.
Ibid., p.2.
Forrester 1996, p.49.
Pilikian 2001, p.196.
Brooke 1885, p.11.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.18 no.3.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xxxii; Forrester 1996, p.12.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.9–19; 1906, pp.12–23; Finberg 1924, pp.5–24.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.302 no.513, pl.515 (colour).
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.[231]; Finberg 1924, p.12.
Technical Notes:
The paper was washed first, and lights created by the removal of watercolour. There is initial pencil sketching in some areas. A very wet brown wash was applied, with the same wash more concentrated for a few darker hatching strokes; the medium was applied thickly enough to crack. A wet brush was applied to darker areas, to give soft linear highlights, and the white paper reserved for lights (even those of the tree-trunks). The woman’s figure was drawn in pencil and washed; then watercolour was removed with a wet brush or bread, leaving a few particles of pigment behind. The umber pigment gives an overall cool brown tone.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘CXVI B | 3’ upper left, and ‘14’ [circled] centre

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Woman and Tambourine c.1806–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-woman-and-tambourine-r1131706, accessed 21 June 2024.