Joseph Mallord William Turner

Neptune’s Trident


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 192 x 133 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVIII C

Catalogue entry

This carefully drawn and tinted design, appropriately combining a trident (attribute of Neptune, god of the seas) with dolphins and a fanciful crown with sailing ship motifs, was engraved in line, probably by W.B. Cooke himself, for use on the protective wrappers for the main engraved subjects in Cooke’s short-lived Marine Views series (see the Introduction to this section).
Turner was working on the main watercolours intended for the series between 1822 and 1824. In his survey of Turner’s prints, W.G. Rawlinson dated the engraving to 1825, although it bears no lettering.1 There are no Tate impressions, but the British Museum, London, holds an example.2 The sequence and dating is slightly unclear; Eric Shanes states that the first of the two issued prints, The Edystone Light House, published according to its lettering on 1 March 1824 (Tate impression: T04820) was the one ‘accompanied’ by the vignette, ‘intended to act as a frontispiece for both the parts and the later, bound copies of the whole set of prints’.3 The second and last of the engravings, Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate, is lettered ‘June 1st 1825’ (Tate impression: T06655).
The original drawing was among numerous largely financial causes of Cooke and Turner falling out and ending their long-standing working and business relationship.4 The relevant passage from a long, despairing letter of self-justification from the ‘thoroughly wound up’ Cooke5 to Turner, dated 1 January 1827, reads:
What possible motive could I have in heaping gold into your pockets when you have always taken such care of your own interests, even in the case of “Neptune’s Trident,” which I can declare you presented to me; and in the spirit of this understanding, I presented it again to Mrs. Cooke. You may recollect afterwards charging me two guineas for the loan of it, and requesting me, at the same time, to return it to you; which has been done.6
Turner’s early biographer Walter Thornbury presumed ‘Cooke must have mistaken a loan for a gift, for Turner never could have been intentionally guilty of such meanness’,7 although Rawlinson was less forgiving.8 Given that Cooke had apparently been paying the very generous rate of sixty guineas per Marine Views watercolour,9 it perhaps seems excessive to fall out so fiercely over this small subsidiary design, but as Shanes puts it in discussing the incident’ Turner ‘was, after all, a professional painter’.10
W[illiam] G[eorge] Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, p.371 no.770.
Jan Piggott, Turner’s Vignettes, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, p.12, as 1825, reproduced.
Shanes 1990, p.12.
See Gillian Forrester, ‘Cook, William Bernard’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.63.
Bailey 1997, p.133.
Transcribed in Thornbury 1862, I, p.402; see also Gage 1980, p.106, Shanes 1981, p.153, and Bailey 1997, p.133.
Thornbury 1997, p.185.
See Rawlinson, II, 1913, p.371; see also Wilton 1979, p.357, Herrmann 1990, p.159, Warrell 1991, p.29, and Bailey 1997, pp.132–3.
See Shanes 1990, p.12.
Shanes 1990, p.281 note 45.

Matthew Imms
July 2016

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