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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.

August 2004