Joseph Mallord William Turner

Glaucus and Scylla

c.1810–15

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 223 x 279 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Reference
D08170
Turner Bequest CXVIII P

Catalogue entry

Provenance:
...
Henry Vaughan by 1878, and possibly by 1862
Engraved:
(see main catalogue entry)
The merman-like Glaucus, seen here beckoning to the nymph Scylla from the sea, was rejected by her. The sorceress Circe, from whom Glaucus subsequently sought assistance in winning her, fell in love with him herself and spitefully changed Scylla’s lower body into a pack of dogs; she was later transformed again, becoming a dangerous rock in the sea.1 The design, engraved but not published, is one of several Liber Studiorum subjects based on stories of love and/or transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the others are Cephalus and Procris and Aesacus and Hesperie (see Tate D08144, D08166; Turner Bequest CXVII P, CXVIII L), and Appulia in Search of Apullus, Pan and Syrinx and Narcissus and Echo.2
The composition has affinities with the landscapes of Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis prints after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber Studiorum introduction), nos.165 (Sea Coast with Christ Calling SS Andrew and Peter)3 and 184 (Coast Scene with Perseus, known as ‘The Origin of Coral’).4 Ruskin attacked the supposed way the ‘blundering, pseudo-picturesque, pseudo-classical minds of Claude and the Renaissance landscape painters ... appointed the type of “classical landscape” thenceforward to consist of a bay of insipid sea, and a rock with a hole through it.’ Nevertheless, he considered that ‘Turner gave the hackneyed composition a strange power and freshness’ in this composition,5 and wrote to W.G. Rawlinson: ‘I love it as a bit of Greek shore itself.’6 Turner would again associate a coastal arch with a classical subject in his later, unfinished painting Rocky Bay with Figures (Tate N01989).7 A more contemporary source has been suggested for the present design:8 Benjamin West’s Homeric subject The First Interview of Telemachus with Calypso; although the original painting exhibited in 1773 is untraced and its apparently reversed engraving not published until 1824,9 Turner may have known the version probably shown at the Royal Academy in 1801.10 There are fundamental similarities, with male mythological characters and the sea to the left below a bright sky, and a female group on a wooded shore to the right.
1
Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII.900–68 (particularly 906–9), XIV.1–74.
2
Respectively: Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–5 no.72, 158 no.80, 168 no.90; 1906, pp.169–70 no.72, 183 no.80, 195 no.90; Finberg 1924, pp.287–90 no.72, 319–21 no.80, 359–61 no.90.
3
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.II, pl.165; from 1665 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–171: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, p.155, reproduced pl.165).
4
Liber Veritatis, vol.II, pl.184; from 1671 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–190: Kitson, pp.167–8, reproduced pl.184); see also Shanes 1990, pp.207–[12].
5
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.244 and note.
6
Quoted in Rawlinson 1906, p.171.
7
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.276 no.434, pl.439 (colour).
8
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.58.
9
Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London 1986, pp.256, 258 no.180, engraving reproduced p.258.
10
Ibid., reproduced p.117 (colour), pp.258–9 no.181; see also p.259 nos.182–4.
11
Nicholson 1990, p.172.
12
Wilton and Turner 1990, p.58.
13
Shanes 1990, p.210.
14
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.356 no.492, reproduced p.82 pl.80.
15
Finberg 1909, I, p.226.
16
Finberg 1924, p.294 nos.73 (g) and (h); Forrester 1996, pp.135, 136 notes 4 and 5.
17
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.234–5 no.382, pl.379 (colour).
18
Ibid., pp.244–5 no.395, pl.399 (colour).
19
Forrester 1996, p.135; see also Finley 1999, p.52.
20
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
21
Ibid., p.159 (transcribed).
22
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
23
Ibid., p.160 (transcribed).
24
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
25
Rawlinson 1878, p.146.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

1
Forrester 1996, p.135 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Read full Catalogue entry

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