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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Studies for Liber sketchbook c.1807–19

Turner Bequest CXV 1–29, 31–48, CXX Q, CXXI R
Sketchbook, quarter-bound, with red leather spine laminated between heavily-shadowed, poor-quality blue-grey laid wrapping paper outer covers and paste-downs of the same Whatman paper used for the pages
35 leaves of white wove lightweight Whatman paper of good formation, made on variable double-faced moulds; page size 230 x 381 mm; other sheets removed, with many cut or torn stubs remaining (see concordance below)
The wove paper made by William Balston, Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent; various pages watermarked ‘J Whatman | 1807’
Numbered 138 as part of the Turner Schedule, and endorsed by the Executors of the Turner Bequest, Henry Scott Trimmer, Charles Turner, John Prescott Knight and Charles Lock Eastlake in ink inside front cover ‘No 138 | H.S. Trimmer | C Turner’ and in pencil ‘C.L.E | JPK’. Also inscribed by Arthur Mayger Hind in pencil ‘Studies for “Liber” | All the drawings mounted, but the book with its blank | leaves might be left as an example of the | effect of the flood of January 1928 | A.M. Hind’. Inscribed in pencil ‘CXV’ top centre, and stamped in black ‘CXV.’ top left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg associated the sketchbook with the Liber Studiorum in his 1909 Inventory, presumably on the basis of the sketchy, Liber-type brown watercolour wash compositions then remaining in or associable with the book. This inference was supported by the presence of a single, untrimmed study (Tate D08100; Turner Bequest CXV 47) relating directly to a known Liber design, the unpublished Ploughing, Eton. The ‘rather perfunctory appearance’ of this and other studies relating to late Liber plates removed from the sketchbook has been described by Gillian Forrester as symptomatic of Turner’s lessening ‘enthusiasm’ at that stage;1 alternatively, Turner’s growing experience and understanding of the steps he and his engravers needed to take between his drawing and a finished mezzotint perhaps left him more confident in leaving the finer nuances of the compositions to the stage where he himself drew their outlines onto copper plates through the etching ground (his usual practice to provide a framework for the subsequent mezzotinting).
It is difficult to establish an overall time-frame for Turner’s use of the book, and his intention in doing so. While several of the finished designs originated in it, most did not, and there are many torn or cut stubs implying abandoned, lost or destroyed pages. The undeveloped subjects catalogued here include several Thames scenes relating to Turner’s productive stay at Isleworth in 1805, slight seascapes (with and without shipping), a lake and a mountain bridge. Some may have been tentative drafts of subjects taken further elsewhere, while others do not appear to have been pursued. Those completed studies listed below which served as the immediate models for engraved plates are catalogued at the appropriate points in the main Liber Studiorum sequence, following the established, numbered order. Forrester has dated them, on various evidence, within a period of about 1812–18. The span of the Liber Studiorum’s active publication, 1807–19, is suggested here as a date range for individual leaves where specific stylistic or documentary evidence is lacking.
Forrester 1996, p.15.
Associated sheets, separated from the sketchbook and here catalogued with it:
Tate D08084; Turner Bequest CXV 1
D08085; CXV 2
D08086; CXV 3
D08087; CXV 4
D08088; CXV 5
D08089; CXV 6
D08090; CXV 7
D08091; CXV 8
D08098; CXV 45
D08099; CXV 46
D08100; CXV 47
D08101; CXV 48
D08231; CXX Q7
D08274; CXXI R8
Finberg 1909, I, p.329 under ‘Miscellaneous: Black and White (2)’, circa 1802–10.
Ibid., p.334 under ‘Miscellaneous: Colour’, circa 1802–10.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

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How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Studies for Liber sketchbook c.1807–19’, sketchbook, August 2009, 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/studies-for-liber-sketchbook-r1131804, accessed 23 July 2024.