J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: Notes on Sunlight; with a Diagram of St Paul's Cathedral c.1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 90 Recto:
Inscription by Turner: Notes on Sunlight; with a Diagram of St Paul’s Cathedral circa 1809
Turner Bequest CVIII 90
Pen and ink on white wove paper, 115 x 88 mm
Part watermark ‘J What | 180’
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) down the top third of the page above the diagram and for three further lines below it
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink (overwritten in pencil) ‘90’ top right, ascending vertically
Stamped in black ‘CVIII – 90’ top right, ascending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The whole page is taken up with the diagram, with notes above and below it:
but when it is considered that the Sun disk | [blank] miles in broad efulgence [‘miles distant’ inserted above] is opposed to a | column only 20 feet from the ground it cannot | be possible for the sun is below the Horizon | or more accuratly [?shining] <is upon the> [‘all these line are Horizontal line’ inserted above] | to shine and ceases to shine to us before he | appears upon those [?times].
Here there is a large gap with a tiny diagrammatic outline of St Paul’s Cathedral towards the left of the horizon line, and slight vertical and curving lines on the right-hand side, captioned:
supposing St Pauls for instance placed in | the same degree of distance opposed to the | Parrl [sic] ray, how can they in any way [?strike]
The whole passage follows on from the verso of this leaf (D07509), and continues on the opposite page, folio 89 verso (D07507). It is part of a sequence beginning on folio 91 verso (D07511), and running back to folio 82 verso (D07493). John Gage has discussed these provisional notes (not developed in the perspective lectures) as an example of Turner’s close observation of natural phenomena,1 in this case the question of sunlight travelling in parallel lines or otherwise, responding to a chapter of The Art of Painting by Gérard de Lairesse (1640–1711), in the English translation by John Frederick Frisch (London 1738 and later editions).2 See under D07511 for a discussion of Lairesse’s text. Maurice Davies has registered Turner’s notes as ‘on light and shadow’, as part of a longer sequence running back to folio 72 verso (D07473).3

Matthew Imms
June 2008

Gage 1969, p.252 note 217.
Ibid., p.178, as ‘TB CVIII, pp. 99a–82a’ (first folio actually 91a); see also Davies 1992, pp.51, 108 note 85.
Davies 1994, p.289.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: Notes on Sunlight; with a Diagram of St Paul’s Cathedral c.1809 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-inscription-by-turner-notes-on-sunlight-with-a-diagram-of-st-r1136704, accessed 19 June 2018.