Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Peter Paul Rubens’s ‘Landscape with a Rainbow’ (Inscription by Turner)

1802

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
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
D04375
Turner Bequest LXXII 77 a

Catalogue entry

For Turner and Rubens see also folio 55 of this sketchbook (D04345) which has a partial copy of Rubens’s altarpiece of St Roch Interceding for Victims of the Plague brought to Paris from Belgium. Rubens’s rainbow landscape had been acquired by Louis XIV. It is a late work, and although an enlargement of an autograph composition (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), has often been thought to involve studio assistance. Nevertheless it is a striking example of Rubens’s assimilation of the Venetian tradition of lyrical scenes of figures in landscape, so it is interesting that Turner addressed it along with the Giorgione/Titian Concert-champêtre, for which see especially folios 56 verso, 57 of the sketchbook (D04347, D04348).
Turner’s comments begun here conclude on folio 78 (D04376). They progress to Rubens’s Landscape with a Tournament, a picture of circa 1636. The latter shows Rubens’s newly acquired country estate, Het Steen, as the background to an imaginary medieval joust. Turner may not yet have seen the larger view of Het Steen (National Gallery, London) which was already in London and would be acquired by Lady Beaumont for her husband, Sir George, the following year. Bachrach says the pictures discussed by Turner are in the Wallace Collection, having confused the Louvre’s rainbow landscape with the larger Wallace one. Finberg compared Turner’s verdict on the rainbow landscape with Théophile Gautier’s somewhat later praise for this ‘idéal du paysage romantique’. Gage noted the ambivalent appeal of Rubens for Turner and the Romantics; while his treatment of phenomena like the rainbow anticipated theirs, it was more theatrical than naturalistic, so that in the end his value to them was largely technical.1
For convenience, Turner’s remarks are transcribed in full here:
Rubens | The Rainbow appears to me the | most to be considered as a picture not | but this as well as the rest of his | landscapes is defective in light and | the possibility [Finberg:? profusion] of nature. The woman in | Blue strikes the Eye and prevents it straying | to the confused and ill-judged lines but as to the figure in red [Finberg: Mid) which is lighted [Finberg: ?lit] from the | opposite side a proof that he wanted | light on that side and rather strove [Finberg: either chose] to | commit an error than continue the light | by means of the ground or where the sky | is placd. Then it is lead by the Yellow within the Trees to the sky and thence to the Bow | which is hard and heavy by the use of [continued on folio 78] the vivid Blue in the distance which is | another instance of his distorting what | he was ignorant of – natural effect. Then the Tournament – what first should | be considered as an effusion of some | effect he had seen is deprived of the cause | for the sky is beautifull and turbulent | but the sun is ill-judged and misapplied. It renders the whole wrong – is not a part | minor it influences of light but the | ground under it on which it could not | shine and by which it is one continual | glare of colour and absurdities when investigated | by scale of Nature but captivating so much | so that you pleased superficially but to | be deceived in the Abstract.

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

1
Gage 1993, pp.95–6.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like