Joseph Mallord William Turner

Mercury and Argus

c.1810

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: 115 x 187 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D18487
Turner Bequest CCX a 6

Catalogue entry

As discussed in the introduction, most of the drawings in this book are rapid figure studies, many of which are explicitly erotic; others may be similar in intent, but are difficult to make out, and may be of classical or biblical subjects. Here Turner’s inscription indicates the Roman god Mercury, identifiable by his winged helmet, and the hundred-eyed cowherd Argus whom he kills at Jupiter’s command, having first charmed him with the pipes which are possibly indicated at Mercury’s shoulder. The story is told by the Roman poet Ovid.1
Turner exhibited a painting of Mercury and Argus in 1836 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa),2 showing them as inconspicuous figures in different poses in an idyllic landscape.
1
Metamorphoses, I.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.217–19 no.367, pl.372 (colour).
Verso:
Blank

Matthew Imms
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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