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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The 'Birth of Adonis' 1805

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 17 Recto:
The ‘Birth of Adonis’ 1805
Turner Bequest XCIV 17
Pen and ink and brown wash on white wove paper, prepared with a grey wash, 143 x 228 mm
Inscribed by Turner in ink ‘Birth of Adonis’ bottom right
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘17’ bottom left, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘XCIV 17’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Myrrha gives birth to Adonis, assisted by Lucina. The story is told in Book 10 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For Ovid subjects in this sketchbook see note to folio 13 (D05865). Properly, Myrrha should appear in the form of a tree, into which she has been changed as a punishment for incest, and the birth takes place through a fissure that opens in its bark. However Turner shows her still in recognisably human form, or at least only partly merged with a tree against which she leans. On folio 18 (D05870) is what appears to be a variant design, in which Myrrha is at least half-tree and is moved to the centre of the composition in a riverside setting whereas here there are suggestions of a distant city. As Hill observes, Ovid is vague about the setting except for mentioning green turf; possibly the splashes on the verso of folio 16 (D05868), facing this drawing, are of watercolour that Turner was going to use to mark this feature here or in another version.

David Blayney Brown
December 2007

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘The ‘Birth of Adonis’ 1805 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, December 2007, 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-the-birth-of-adonis-r1130092, accessed 26 April 2018.