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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Land Discovered by Columbus, for Rogers's 'Poems' c.1830-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Land Discovered by Columbus, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’ circa 1830–2
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 190
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 130 x 115 mm on white wove paper, 242 x 310 mm
Inscribed by unknown hand in pencil ‘[?Checked] by the [...]’ in bottom right corner of sheet [erased]
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 190’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This is one of seven illustrations that Turner produced for ‘The Voyage of Columbus’, a miniature epic poem which is the final work in the published volume of Rogers’s Poems (for a brief description of the poem, see Tate D27705; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188). The seven vignettes in order of their appearance in Rogers’s text are: Tate D27705, D27706, D27714, D27707, D27708, D27719, D27709; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188, 189, 197, 190, 191, 202, 192.
Like all of the ‘Columbus’ series, Land Discovered by Columbus was engraved by Edward Goodall.1 The vignette appeared as the head-piece to Canto VIII of the poem,2 the section in which Rogers describes the moment when Columbus and his crew finally discover land:
Chosen of Men! ’Twas thine, at noon of night,
First from the prow to hail the glimmering light;
(Emblem of Truth divine, whose secret ray
Enters the soul, and makes the darkness day!)
“PEDRO! RODRIGO! There, methought, it shone!
There – in the west! And now, alas, ’tis gone! –
’Twas all but a dream! we gaze and gaze in vain!
– But mark and speak not, there it comes again!
It moves! – what form unseen, what being there
With torch-like lustre fires the murky air?
His instincts, passions, say, how like our own?
Oh ! when will day reveal a world unknown?
(Poems, pp.249–50)
Turner here shows Columbus looking out to sea as the ‘glimmering light’ appears, pointing the way to land. Rogers explains in a footnote that this vision of light in the midst of darkness is also meant to signify the light of Christian revelation that Columbus would spread throughout America.3 The cross formed by the ship’s mast, as well as the cross on the flag flying from the Santa Maria reinforce Rogers’s construction of Columbus as a Christian hero.
The shadowy and loose nature of Turner’s watercolour would have posed a particular challenge to the engraver, Edward Goodall.4 To assist him, the artist drew additional sketches in pencil of the two ships in the left-hand margin of the sheet. These studies clarify the design and indicate that certain changes, such as the position of the oar ports on the bow of the Santa Maria, should be integrated into the engraved version of the design.5
An anonymous reviewer writing in the Athenaeum, in 1833, had particular praise for this vignette, which he described as ‘perhaps the sublimest of all scenes; Columbus is standing calm and thoughtful on deck, his seamen are slumbering, the moon shines out, a curtain of mist is lifted up, and the promised land is shown to his anxious eyes’. He went on to suggest that the figure of Columbus was reminiscent of the Flaxman’s statue of Michelangelo.6 It seems likely this element of the illustration was re-drawn by Goodall himself, since the figure bears little resemblance to the man who appears in Turner’s original watercolour.7
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.401. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T05127 and T06173).
Samuel Rogers, Poems, 1834, p.248.
Ibid., p.285.
Lyles and Perkins 1989, pp.69–70.
Ibid. pp.69–70
Athenaeum, no. 320. 14 December 1833, p.841.
Lyles and Perkins 1989,pp.69–70 and Piggott 1993, p.43.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘26 [7 superimposed] | a’ top centre and ‘CCLXXX.190’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 190’ lower centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Land Discovered by Columbus, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’ c.1830–2 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, 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-land-discovered-by-columbus-for-rogerss-poems-r1133379, accessed 20 November 2017.