Joseph Mallord William Turner Comments on Reflections in Moving Water (Inscriptions by Turner) 1808–10

Artwork details

Comments on Reflections in Moving Water (Inscriptions by Turner)
From Tabley No.3 Sketchbook
Turner Bequest CV
Date 1808–10
Medium Ink on paper
Dimensions Support: 108 x 185 mm
Acquisition Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription reads:
Reflections not only appear darker but longer than the | object which occasions them, and if the ripple or hollow | of the wave is long enough to make an angle with the eye it | is on these undulating lines that the object reflects, and | transmits all perpendicular objects lower towards the | Spectator. But in receding lines as well as objects, rules | seem to lose their power, and those guides to enable us to find | some cause to near objects lose or their : ... become enfeebled by | contraction to remote ones. It has been asserted that all objects | appear equal from the base line of the water, but this axiom I am | compelled to dissent with. It is true that [by inserted] placing the eye equal to the | water it comes nearest to the rule laid down, but when that water | is represented on which all things are to be reflected, it is no longer | a right angle, but according to the elevation of the Spectator becomes | more or less an angle of incidence
Turner’s early biographers, who published inaccurate versions of this passage, took it as evidence of Turner’s muddled thinking or his poor language skills. But Finberg observed that the transcription given by Thornbury ‘contains so many misreadings and errors that it reads like nonsense’ and published his own revised and corrected reading,1 closer to the one provided in the present catalogue, from which the gist seems clear enough. For further notes or a continuation of this passage, see folio 92 verso of the sketchbook (D07114). Turner’s observations arise from his preparations for his lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, delivered from 1811. Lecture 5 would be devoted to ‘Reflexes’ or reflections.

David Blayney Brown
February 2011

Finberg 1961, p.152.

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