Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Deluge


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 204 x 284 mm
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Turner Bequest CXVIII X

Catalogue entry

F. Halsted
Henry Vaughan by 1872
(see main catalogue entry)
Turner’s design, engraved for the Liber Studiorum but not published, was based on his large painting The Deluge, possibly exhibited at his gallery in 1805, and shown at the Royal Academy in 1813, after which it remained in his studio (Tate N00493).1 The episode derives from the Biblical account of the Flood and Noah’s escape in the ark,2 seen beyond the trees to the left in the painting, concentrating on the passage in which ‘all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.’3 Turner was influenced by the dismal gloom of the 1660s version of the subject by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), which he had studied on his Continental tour of 1802 (Musée du Louvre, Paris);4 the figures (as depicted in the painting and in modified form in the Liber engraving, though barely indicated in the present drawing) may have derived from earlier Venetian models such as Titian (circa 1487–1576) and Veronese (1528–1588).5
The drawing is a very free transcription of the oil, concentrating on the storm and flood waters; of more than a dozen figures clinging to dry land in the right foreground of the painting only two are clearly transcribed, while the roof timbers in the centre of the original composition and the similar number of figures struggling in the waves on and around them are omitted altogether. The rocky outcrops top left and right are freely developed from the painting, as is the single, windswept tree. The distant pitched roof in the centre is perhaps intended as that of the ark, but in the subsequent mezzotint the shape becomes a mountain, and the ark is shown (as in the painting) beyond the tree, perhaps prompted by two fortuitous blots at that point in the drawing.
The composition is noted, as ‘Deluge’, with other ‘Historical’ Liber subjects inside the back cover of the Tabley Sketchbook, No.1 of about 1808 (Tate D40721; Turner Bequest CIII).6 It also appears, again as ‘Deluge’, in a list of ‘Historical’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12171; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 31); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.7 It is noted again, as ‘Deluge’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX).8
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.43–4 no.55 pl.65 (colour).
Genesis 7:10–24.
Ibid., verses 21 and 22.
See Butlin and Joll 1984, p.44, and Forrester 1996, p.154; see also Wilton 1980, pp.71–2, 136, 137.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.44.
Forrester 1996, p.158 (transcribed).
Ibid., pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.353.
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Hardie 1938, p.68 no.34, reproduced p[127] pl.XXIV A.
Forrester 1996, p.154.
[Taylor and Vaughan] 1872, p.[54]
Forrester 1996, pp.15, 24 note 82 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8); see also Bower, Tate conservation files.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slide of detail.

Matthew Imms
May 2006

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