Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Garreteer’s Petition

exhibited 1809

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Oil paint on wood
Dimensions
Support: 552 x 791 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
N00482

Not on display

Display caption

Turner rarely painted explicitly figurative works, but was inspired to do so in this case by rivalry with David Wilkie, whose genre subjects had taken the London art world by storm in 1805. The scene shows a young poet struggling for inspiration late at night in his attic room. On the wall is an image of Mount Parnassus, home of the Greek Muses, indicating his lofty ambitions. Though the point of the image seems to be satirical, the picture was exhibited at a time when Turner was producing his own verses, and he may well have sympathised with the poet’s plight.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

100. [N00482] The Garreteer's Petition Exh. 1809

THE TATE GALLERY, LONDON (482)
Mahogany, 21 3/4 × 31 1/8 (55 × 79); painted surface 20 7/8 × 30 3/4 (53 × 78)
Inscribed; see below
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (17, ‘The Garreteer's Petition’ 2'6" × 1'9 1/2"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. R.A. 1809 (175); Turner's gallery 1810 (17, ‘Poet's Garrett’); Tate Gallery 1931 (28); British Narrative Paintings C.E.M.A. tour 1944 (36); R.A. 1974–5 (134).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 293; 1877, pp. 429–30; Eastlake 1895, i, p. 189; Bell 1901, p. 87 no. 116; Armstrong 1902, p. 222, repr. p. 17; Whitley 1928, p. 144; Davies 1946, p. 185; H.F. Finberg 1951, pp. 384, 386; Finberg 1961, pp. 159, 472 no. 149, 513 no. 157m; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 20–22; Jerrold Ziff, ‘J.M.W. Turner on Poetry and Painting’, Studies in Romanticism, iii 1964, pp. 207–12, pl. 1; Gage 1965, p. 79, repr. p. 77, fig. 30; Gage 1969, p. 136; Wilton 1980, p. 140; Marks 1981, pp. 342–5, pl. 6.

Exhibited in 1809 with the following verses:

‘Aid me, ye Powers! O bid my thoughts to roll
In quick succession, animate my soul;
Descend my Muse, and every thought refine,
And finish well my long, my long-sought line.’

These verses, with the possible exception of those for Dolbadern Castle and Caernarvon Castle in the 1800 R.A., are the first of his own by Turner in an exhibition catalogue. There are drafts on the back of the study in pen and watercolour for the picture, CXXI-A, which is itself inscribed with references to Vida's ‘Art of Poetry’, ‘Translations, &c’, ‘Hints for an Epic Poem’, ‘Reviews Torn upon Floor and Paraphrase of Job’ and ‘Coll. of Odds and Ends’; on the door is an ‘Almanack of Fasts and Feasts’ (repr. Ziff, op. cit., pl. 2). In the oil painting the torn reviews appear on the floor and on the door there is a ‘TABLE OF FASTS/AND [?] ... FEASTS’ with two columns of simulated writing headed ‘FASTS’ and ‘FEASTS’; above the door Turner has added, hanging askew, a framed ‘Plan and Elevation’ of ‘MOUNT PARNASSUS &&& [?]’.

There is a companion sketch of an artist's studio, CXXI-B (repr. Gage 1965, fig. 29, Gage 1969, pl. 31, Ziff, op. cit., pl. 3, and Wilton, loc. cit.), again with inscriptions and with draft verses on the back. Whereas The Garreteer's Petition somewhat ennobles its model, Hogarth's Distressed Poet (Birmingham City Art Gallery, repr. in colour Ronald Paulson, Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times 1971, i, pl. 154a), Turner makes fun of the artist in his verses:

‘Pleased with his work he views it o'er & o'er
And finds fresh Beauties never seen before’

while his apprentice cares not ‘for taste beyond a butter'd roll’. Turner had already exhibited a somewhat similar subject the year before in The Unpaid Bill (No. 81).

This seems to have been painted on a panel already covered with what is apparently ordinary household paint. This extends beyond Turner's paint on the top and bottom edges. On the left there is a narrow strip of uncovered panel; on the right Turner's paint extends right up to the edge, which may have been cut after the painting was completed. In any case the panel seems to have been trimmed before Turner used it and after reinforcing battens and strips of canvas were added to the back.

Pasquin, writing in the Morning Herald (4 May 1809), followed his praise of Spithead (No. 80 [N00481]) with an attack on Turner for, in this work, attempting a genre to which he was not suited, concluding with ‘the insulted Garrateer thus indignantly admonishing the Royal Academician ...

‘Avaunt! presumptuous, proud R.A.
What wouldst thou here, so pert, so gay?
May thine own Gods forsake thee:
You've spoil'd the tadpole of a thought,
Which Genius from Apollo caught,
For wich the Devil take thee!’


Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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