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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The 'Death of Nessus' 1805

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 14 Recto:
The ‘Death of Nessus’ 1805
Turner Bequest XCIV 14
Pen and ink and brown wash on white wove paper, prepared with a grey wash, 143 x 228 mm
Inscribed by Turner in ink ‘death of Nessus’ bottom right
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘14’ bottom left, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘XCIV 14’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Hercules aims his bow across a river at the centaur Nessus, who is making off with Deianera on his back, as described in Book 9 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For Ovid subjects in this sketchbook see note to folio 13 (D05865). In the poem this episode follows closely on Hercules’s combat with Achelous, the subject of 13. Hercules is duped by Nessus, who offers to ferry his bride across the River Euenus. Thinking to show off his strength and courage, Hercules leaps in and swims across, but Nessus steals Deianera and leaves Hercules stranded on the opposite bank, whereupon Hercules kills him with a poisoned arrow. Before expiring, Nessus will give Deianera a cloak soaked in his poisoned blood, which (unaware of its danger) she sends to Hercules by her servant Lichas. Managing first to slay Lichas, as Turner depicts on folio 15 (D05867), Hercules succumbs to the poison himself.

David Blayney Brown
December 2007

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘The ‘Death of Nessus’ 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-death-of-nessus-r1130089, accessed 24 June 2018.