Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Rembrandt’s ‘Tobias and the Angel’ and ‘Susanna’ by a Rembrandt Follower (Inscriptions by Turner)


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 128 x 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXII 60 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s notes read:
The Angel departeth from Tobit Family | is rich in colour and brilliant in effect | but hard The idea of the angel is violent | but valid [Finberg: ? true]. The foreground greenish tone | and in half – light – the mother well toned | in dim shadow. The wings of the Angel thin [Finberg: ?Iron] | and Green In short a greenish horn like | tone pervades too much, which is pro | duced by the first grey over a brilliant As. Ground | The Susanna | finely colour’d in shoulder and loins the piece of white drapery admirably | introduced to extend the light but is | rather artificial [Finberg: artificially] as to breadth. Miserably drawn and poor in expression.
Finberg correctly identified the subject of Turner’s first remarks as ‘“L’Ange Raphaël quittant Tobie”’ by Rembrandt and that of the second passage as ‘Perhaps the “Susanna”, now at the Hague’. The Louvre Tobias and the Angel dates from 1637 and is an autograph work, from the collection of Louis XV. The latter picture, Susanna Bathing (Mauritshuis, The Hague) is no longer given to Rembrandt himself. See folio 61 of this sketchbook (D04355) for the picture and Turner’s copy, and also notes on folio 59 verso (D04352) for Kitson’s opinion that Turner’s observations on Tobias and the Angel were more extensive and sympathetic than they were of the Susanna and The Good Samaritan, another picture then ascribed to Rembrandt in the Louvre but now rejected. Gage provides further evidence of Turner’s admiration of the Louvre Tobias and the Angel, and of his wider knowledge of Old Master painting, observing that Turner used this figure for ‘one of the most brilliantly realised’ of the angels in his unfinished picture The Vision of Jacob’s Ladder (Tate N05507).1 There it is introduced into a turbulent setting based on Salvator Rosa’s Jacob’s Dream (Devonshire collection, Chatsworth), which Turner may have seen at Chatsworth in 1830 but doubtless already knew from a print as well as from Joshua Reynolds’s description in his fourteenth Discourse. Dating Jacob’s Ladder about 1830, Butlin and Joll note that it may show evidence of work over a considerable period. The appearance of Rembrandt’s angel could indicate that this began shortly after the Louvre visit. No drawing of the figure has been traced, so Turner’s memory would need to have been fresh.

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.276–7 no.435 (pl.442)

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like