Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Nicolas Poussin’s ‘Deluge’ (Inscription by Turner)

1802

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 128 x 114 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D04327
Turner Bequest LXXII 41 a

Catalogue entry

For Turner and the Louvre Poussins see folio 25 verso of this sketchbook (D04302). The Deluge, also called ‘Winter’ as noted by Finberg, formed one of a set of Four Seasons painted for the Duc de Richelieu between 1660 and 1664. The series as a whole was revered as Poussin’s swansong and The Deluge as supposedly his last painting. The subject is the biblical Flood described in Genesis. It was the only one of the set that Turner addressed in the sketchbook, struck by its monochromatic palette of leaden greys and aware of its reputation as a pioneering depiction of the untrammelled forces of nature. His comments begun here are concluded on folio 42 (D04328); for convenience they are transcribed in full here:
The Deluge by N Poussin | The color of this picture impresses | the subject more than the incidents | which are by no means fortunate either | as to place, position or color, as they | are separate spots untouched [Finberg: untoned] by the dark | color that pervades the whole. The lines | are defective as to the conception of a swamp’d world and the fountains | of the deep being broken up. The boat | in the waterfall is ill judged and misapplied | for the figures are placed at the wrong end | to give the idea of falling. The other boat | makes a parallel with the base of the picture | and the woman giving the Child is unworthy | the mind of Poussin. She is as unconcerned as is the man floating with a small piece of | board no current or effluvium [Finberg: ? ebullition] although a [continued on folio 42] waterfall is introduced to fill up the interstices | of the Earth. Artificially, not tearing | and desolating but falling placidly in | another pool. Whatever might have been said of the picture by Rousseau | never can efface its absurdity as to | forms and the introduction of the figures | but the color is sublime. It is natural | is what a creative mind must be | imprest by with sympathy and | horror. The pale luminary may | be taken for the moon from its size | & color. But the coloring of the figures denies it – and the half tint on the rock &c oppose the idea of its being the | sun. Upon the whole the picture would | have been as well without it although | a beautiful idea – but by being so neutral, become of no value.

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

1
For Turner’s lecture see Ziff 1963 pp.315–16, 319–20, and Gage 1969, pp.109, 200.
2
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.43–4 no.55 (pl.65).

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