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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Life Class (1) Sketchbook c.1835–40

Turner Bequest CCLXXIX (a) 1–64a
Red leather sketchbook bound in boards with a brass clasp and pencil holder
64 leaves of white wove paper, 86 x 111 mm
Numbered 269 as part of the Turner Schedule in 1854 and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest in ink and pencil on inside front cover (see entry for D41108)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This slim pocket sketchbook contains pencil studies on a miscellany of subjects, mostly comprising maritime motifs and a series of academic nudes which gives the volume its name.1 The drawings on folio 45 verso (D27447; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 42a) depict nudes of a different nature: three erotic studies of a man and woman engaged in sexual intercourse.2 The art historian Ian Warrell has suggested that the contents date to about 1835–40; they must certainly postdate the 1831 watermark on many of its pages. Turner’s handling ranges from the extreme cursory nature of a sketch like that on folio 4 recto (D27372; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 4) to the finished little interior scene on folio 7 recto (D27378; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 7).
As outlined in the Introduction to the Life Class (2) sketchbook, Turner was a lifelong attender of the Royal Academy’s life drawing class. His period of greatest activity as an instructor was the 1830s so the academic nudes in this volume probably relate to these duties. Several notable studies here take a wider view of this ritual of classical drawing practice, depicting not only the nude model but also rows of artists drawing and the interior surroundings; see the folio 20 verso (D27405; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 20a); folio 52 recto (D27459; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 52); folio 58 verso (D27470; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 58a); folio 59 recto (D27471; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 59). All of the academic nudes are female and can be found on the following leaves:
Folio 10 verso (D27385; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 10a); folio 11 recto (D27386; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 11); folio 18 verso (D27396; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 16); folio 18 verso (D27401; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 18); folio 19 recto (D27402; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 19); folio 19 verso (D27403; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 19a); folio 20 recto (D27404; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 20); folio 21 recto (D27406; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 21); folio 22 recto (D27408; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 22); folio 26 recto (D27416; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 26); folio 26 verso (D27417; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 26a); folio 31 recto (D27425; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 31); folio 33 recto (D27428; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 33); folio 45 recto (D27446; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 45); folio 46 verso (D27449; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 46); folio 50 recto (D27455; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 50); folio 50 verso (D27456; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 50a); folio 51 recto (D27457; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 51).
More numerous are the various seaside subjects which fill most of the rest of the sketchbook. Rapid drawings of shipping and harbour infrastructure recur especially frequently, as well as studies of the sun hanging low over the horizon such as are particularly associated with Turner’s coastal visits. The art historian James Hamilton has detected a scientific attention to meteorological and astronomical phenomena in these sky studies, describing the drawings on folio 64 recto (D27479; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 64) as a ‘diagrammatic progress’ of the setting sun.3 Towards the centre of the sketchbook, several leaves record the Kent harbour town of Margate, recognisable by the recently built tower of Holy Trinity Church, suggesting a possible location for some of the other more generic coastal scenes. These Margate views can be found on:
Folio 36 verso (D27431; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 36a); folio 37 recto (D27433; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 37); folio 37 verso (D27434; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 37a); folio 38 recto (D27435; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 38); folio 38 verso (D27436; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 38a); folio 39 recto (D27437; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 39); folio 40 Recto (D27439; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 40)
Anecdotal little figure studies in the sketchbook depict a variety of human activities. Some of these represent scenes fashionable leisure, including the sketches on folios 8 verso (D27381; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 8a) and 52 verso (D27460; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 52a). Others are more obviously coastal in theme; for example, a note on folio 29 recto (D27421; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 29) communicates that the figures depicted are trapped by the tide. These may be fishermen such as those depicted on folios 29 verso (D27422; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 29a), 30 recto (D27423; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 30), and 48 recto (D27452; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 48). A gurnard fish, perhaps caught by one of these fishermen, appears to have particularly sparked Turner’s curiosity, and recurs on folios 9 recto (D27382; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 9), 9 verso (D27383; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 9a), and 10 recto (D27384; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 10).
The concerns of the sketchbook with the fisherman’s catch and the mixture of working class and fashionable seaside activity were combined in his tableau of a relaxed young man in a tall hat talking to a woman, seen from behind, who is working at a table; folio 7 recto (D27378; Turner Bequest CCLXXIX a 7). ‘The Bivalve Courtship’ – Turner’s witty title for the composition, which he inscribed along the bottom of the page – implies that her work involves some kind of shelled mollusc. Working class beauties and oysters in particular were a well-established combination in British genre compositions by this date; see for example Philip Dawe’s mezzotint after Henry Robert Morland’s take on the theme of about 1769 (British Museum, 1863,1114.502). As art historian John Gage first noted, Turner’s curious title – both scientific and gallant – may have been prompted by recent discoveries in zoological reproduction. 4 In 1826 Sir Anthony Carlise, who had been Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy between 1808 and 1824, had delivered a lecture in which he proved that oysters (formerly regarded as androgynous) required two breeding partners of opposite sexes to reproduce.
1
For more on Turner’s sketches of this kind, see Ian Warrell, ‘Exploring the “Dark Side”: Ruskin and the Problem of Turner’s Erotica’, with ‘A Checklist of Erotic Sketches in the Turner Bequest’, British Art Journal, vol.4, no.1, Spring 2003, p.40.
2
Ibid.
3
James Hamilton, Turner and the Scientists, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998, pp.58–9
4
John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, p.218 fig.298; see also Anne Lyles, Turner: The Fifth Decade: Watercolours 1830–1840, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1992, p.55.

John Chu
February 2015

Showing 1 - 30 of 109 artworks
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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D41108
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27366
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27367
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27368
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27369
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    A Ship c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27370
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27371
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27372
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Tower and Clouds c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27373
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping and Coast c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27374
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    ?Clouds c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27375
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Clouds c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27376
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27377
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27378
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Sea and Sky c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27379
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Sea and Sky c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27380
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Pony and Trap c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27381
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Gurnard c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27382
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Gurnard c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27383
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Gurnard c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27384
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27385
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27386
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27387
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27388
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27389
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27390
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27391
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27392
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    ?Buildings c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27393
  • Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Shipping c.1835‑40
    Life Class (1) Sketchbook [Finberg CCLXXIX (a)]
    D27394
Showing 1 - 30 of 109 artworks

How to cite

John Chu, ‘Life Class (1) Sketchbook c.1835–40’, sketchbook, February 2015, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, August 2016, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/life-class-1-sketchbook-r1181503, accessed 15 September 2019.