Joseph Mallord William Turner

Procris and Cephalus

c.1808

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: 185 x 260 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08144
Turner Bequest CXVII P

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and George Clint, ‘Procris and Cephalus.’, published Turner, 14 February 1812
Cephalus relates the tragic tale of his wife Procris’s accidental death in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. While out hunting, he assumed a sound from the undergrowth – his wife following him – was caused by a wild animal, and hurled his spear, inflicting a mortal wound. 1 It is one of several Liber subjects based on stories of love and/or transformation in the Metamorphoses: the others are Aesacus and Hesperie and Glaucus and Scylla (see Tate D08166, D08170; Turner Bequest CXVIII L, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P), and Appulia in Search of Apullus, Pan and Syrinx and Narcissus and Echo.2
Turner’s Liber Studiorum design was not based on an existing work of his own. The design has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.100 (Landscape with the Death of Procris);3 by 1799, a small, atmospheric version in oils, now ascribed to the studio of Claude, had entered the collection of the artist and connoisseur Sir George Beaumont,4 who presented it to the nation in 1826 (National Gallery, London) – it is possible that Turner knew of it at the time he worked on his drawing, although the common elements of the figures and dog in the foreground of a wooded scene at sunset became largely rearranged. Turner may also have known the painting by Benjamin West showing the Death of Procris (Art Institute of Chicago), which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771, when it was engraved in reverse; it shows Procris reclining in the foreground with Cephalus attending her, a hunting dog, and a wooded background with the sky dramatically lit above the two figures.5
Ruskin wrote extensively on the composition. In Modern Painters, he regarded the landscape as a reminiscence of ‘English forest glades’, comparable to the setting for the Liber design Aesacus and Hesperie (see Tate D08166; Turner Bequest CXVIII L).6 Declaring that he knew ‘of no landscape more purely or magnificently imaginative, or bearing more distinct evidence of the relative and simultaneous conception of the parts’, he explored at length the interrelationships of the trees;7 in an unpublished passage he wrote of the ‘divine trees of dark and pensive power, their leaves closed together in a cloud of night; beneath them, avenues where the nymphs and wood-gods wander.’8
1
Ovid, Metamorphoses, VII. 760–865 (particularly 835–62).
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.I, pl.100; from 1646 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–106: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, p.115, reproduced pl.100); see also Eric Shanes, Turner’s Human Landscape, London 1990, pp.173–4.
4
Felicity Owen, David Blayney Brown and John Leighton, ‘Noble and Patriotic’: The Beaumont Gift, 1828, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 1988, p.44 no.7, reproduced p.[45] (colour)
5
Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London 1986, p.242 no.150, reproduced.
6
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.236.
7
Ibid., IV 1903, p.245
8
Transcribed in ibid., VII 1903, p.480.
9
Ibid., IV 1903, p.309; see Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alastor (1816), 649–53, quoted in footnote 2.
10
Ibid., VII 1903, p.434.
11
Lectures on Landscape, in ibid., XXII 1906, pp.65, 67
12
See letter from G. Webster Thompson, quoted in Brooke 1885, p.136.
13
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
14
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
15
Forrester 1996, p.163 (transcribed).
16
Rawlinson 1878, pp.77–85; 1906, pp.90–100; Finberg 1924, pp.145–64.
17
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.164.
18
Hardie 1938, pp.47–8 no.6.
19
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.70.
1
Forrester 1996, p.24 note 74.
2
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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