John Linnell

Portrait Study of J.M.W. Turner’s Father, with a Sketch of Turner’s Eyes, Made during a Lecture


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
John Linnell 1792–1882
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 225 mm
Purchased 1980

Catalogue entry



Two studies (on one sheet) made during J.M.W. Turner's lecture on perspective at the Royal Academy, 27 January 1812:

(1) Profile portrait of Turner's father, William Turner, listening to the lecture
(2) J.M.W. Turner's eyes looking down, presumably at his lecture notes.
Inscribed variously in pencil, on the right-hand half of sheet: bottom left of (1), ‘Turner-Senr.’ and, on sitter's head, ‘Wig’; bottom left of (2), ‘Do. Junr./RA’; along right edge, ‘Monday–Januy. 27th. 1812./Turners Lecture on perspective -/ Drawn at the Lecture’, followed by ‘by J.Linnell’ in a later hand; on left-hand half of sheet, across the top, in the same later hand, ‘Portrait of Turner's Father sitting to hear/his son Lecture at the R.A./1812./ Drawn/During J.M.W. Turner's Lecture/ by John Linnell student’
Pencil, on the right-hand half (7 7/16 × 4 7/16: 18.9 × 11.3) of a sheet of folded paper, 7 7/16 × 8 7/8 (18.9 × 22.6)
Purchased from A. Buckland-Kent (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: From a group of drawings kept by the artist until his death; by descent to his grand-daughter, Mrs Bates, by whom given c.1930 to Charles W. Preston, Editor of The Surrey Mirror, Redhill, from whose widow they were purchased by A. Buckland-Kent 1962.
Exh: Turner, R.A., 1974–5 (in ‘Life and Times’ section, but not in catalogue); ‘JMWT PP’, Tate Gallery, July–December 1980 (among ‘Related Items’, listed but not numbered).
Lit: Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., 11, 1862, pp.316–18; Alfred T. Story, Life of John Linnell, 11, 1892, p.251; Judy Egerton, ‘JMWT PP’, 1980, p.2, repr.p.63; R.J.B. Walker, ‘The Portraits of J.M.W. Turner: A Check-List’ in Turner Studies, III, no.1, Summer 1983, p.24 no.13, repr.
Repr: John Gage, Collected Correspondence of J.M.W. Turner, 1980, pl.11, facing p.164, captioned ‘Portrait of William Turner Snr at a Lecture by J.M.W. Turner. 1812’.

Turner was appointed Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy in 1807. The post, created on the Academy's foundation in 1768, had since then proved increasingly difficult to fill, and for the twenty years before Turner's appointment had been only partially filled by Edward Edwards ARA, with the title of Teacher of Perspective. On Edwards' death in 1806, the Academy resolved to revive the Professorship, but no Academician wanted to take it on. Finally, out of characteristic loyalty to the Academy, Turner volunteered for the post, ‘if no one else offered’. He was elected Professor of Perspective on 10 July 1807, but asked for time to prepare his lectures, and in fact it was not until just over three years later that he gave his first course, which began on Monday, 7 January 1811.

All Turner's lectures on perspective were given in the dark evenings of winter, his courses usually beginning early in January; all were given in the Academy's then home, Somerset House. Turner gave courses of six lectures in 1811, 1812, 1814, 1815, 1816, 1818, 1819, 1821, 1824, 1825 and 1828, receiving for each course the customery fee of £60; in 1827 he gave a course of only four lectures, for which he received £40. Cash books in the collection of the Royal Academy record these payments without specifying the particular dates of the lectures (information from Constance-Anne Parker, Librarian, Royal Academy of Arts).

Linnell's inscription on T 03269 records that his studies were made during the lecture Turner delivered on 27 January 1812. Brief notes by Sir John Soane, who attended that lecture, record that this was Turner's ‘fourth lecture’ in the 1812 course (Turner's second series of lectures). Soane, who was to be the Academy's Professor of Architecture, 1816–37, notes that others present that evening included ‘Fuseli’ (Professor of Painting 1810–25, and Keeper of the Academy's Schools 1804–25), ‘Howard’ (Henry Howard RA, Secretary of the Academy 1811–47), ‘Woodforde’ (Samuel Woodforde RA) and ‘Marchant’ (Nathaniel Marchant RA) (Soane Note Books, no.110, [p.39], in the collection of the Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum). There is no source in the Soane Note Books for Whitley's statement (‘Turner as a Lecturer’, Burlington Magazine, XXII, 1912–13, p.206) that Turner had ‘about fifty auditors’ that evening, nor for his statement (ibid.) that ‘several drawings [were] shown’ at Turner's next lecture, on 3 February 1812. But it does seem to have been Turner's usual practice to illustrate his lectures with drawings which he had specially designed for his lecture, and which he seems to have arranged behind him on the rostrum; over 180 of these drawings, ranging from illustrative line diagrams to watercolours of great beauty, survive on the Turner Bequest (CXCV). Turner's manner in delivering his lectures was sometimes rambling; but some people evidently attended them for the same reason as his old colleague Thomas Stothard, who was very deaf: when asked why he came, Stothard said ‘Sir, there is so much to see at Turner's lectures - much that I delight in seeing; though I cannot hear him’ (quoted by Andrew Wilton, Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner R.A., 1979, p.14).

No orderly or firmly datable sequence of Turner's lecture notes exists (though some notes for particular lectures do); but what is evidently his syllabus for his first series of lectures in 1811 survives in the form of brief notes (MSS. now in a private collection), reprinted by D.S. MacColl (‘Turner's Lectures at the Academy’, Burlington Magazine, XII, 1907–8, p.345), as follows:

1. 'Lecture. Introduction. its origin use. how far connected with Anatomy Painting Architecture and Sculpture, Elements. Parallel Angular Aerial Perspective.

2. Vision. Subdivision of the Elements and Terms of Perspective. Parallel Perspective. The Cube by the Old Masters.

3. Angular Perspective. The circle (?) column. The difficulties attending the circle. The impropriety of Parallels explained.

4. Aerial Perspective. Light shade and color.

5. Reflexes [always spelt ‘Reflexies’] Reflexions and Color.

6. Backgrounds. Introduction of Architecture and Landscape.'

(this last lecture is fully discussed by Jerrold Ziff in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XXVI, 1963, pp.124–7; some later lecture notes are reprinted by John Gage in Colour in Turner, 1969, Appendices, pp.119–214).

Since Soane records that the lecture he attended on 27 January 1812 was Turner's ‘fourth lecture’, it is probable that on this occasion, as in the previous year's fourth lecture, Turner again lectured on ‘Aerial Perspective. Light shade and colour’. If so, his audience that evening would have heard Turner, who had himself pointed out from the start that he was not ideally suited to lecture on the general subject of perspective, discussing and illustrating the particular aspect of the subject which he was best qualified to lecture on, and on which he was probably at his most stimulating.

Turner was immensely proud of the title of Professor of Perspective, which he retained until 1838, sometimes adding ‘P P’ after his signature to works painted during his tenure of the office. His father, William Turner (1745–1829) was also very proud of his son's professorship, and is said to have attended all or most of his lectures.

Linnell kept the studies he had made on 27 January 1812 all his life; nearly fifty years after making them, he recalled them, in a letter to Walter Thornbury of July 1861, as ‘... a very careful outline of Turner's father, taken when attending his son's lecture at the Royal Academy about 1810, and a sketch of the eyes and brows, looking down, of the lecturer ...’ (quoted by Story, 1892, loc.cit.).

In the same letter, Linnell describes a portrait in oils of Turner which he painted ‘from memory’ and ‘from recollection at the request of a friend of his’; for that rather unconvincing portrait (dated 1838, and now on loan from a private collection to the National Portrait Gallery; see Walker, op.cit., p.27 no.27, repr.), Linnell expressly states that he made ‘no memorandum at the time of meeting’, i.e. no first-hand sketches. Turner is portrayed looking to the right and slightly upwards, yet there is some echo in the eyes and eyebrows from T03117, the study made at first hand in 1812.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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