Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Kneeling Figure

c.1799–1805

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Chalk on paper
Dimensions
Support: 271 × 436 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D04971
Turner Bequest LXXXI 69

Catalogue entry

Finberg suggests that this study, made with the page turned horizontally, may be for the god Apollo, and connected with the drawing on the folio 35 verso opposite (Tate D04970; Turner Bequest LXXXI 68), which is an early idea for the large painting Apollo and Python that appeared at the Royal Academy in 1811 (Tate N00488).1 He describes the subject as ‘Figure of a man among clouds’,2 but this is a misunderstanding: the cloud–like forms are simply an off–set from the opposite page.
Nevertheless, it may be that Turner at first conceived his Apollo as shooting his arrow from a cloud, and the position of the figure in relation to the drawing opposite supports that idea. If so, he may have been thinking of the famous 1760 painting by Richard Wilson (1713–1782), The Destruction of the Children of Niobe (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), published in a hugely successful engraving by William Woollett in 1761 which Turner, an admirer of Wilson, knew well. In this, Apollo and Diana visit vengeance on the over–proud Niobe by killing her children one by one.3 Apollo appears on a cloud at the left of that composition (or to the right in the reversed print).
For another possible reminiscence of the Niobe see folio 16 recto (D04932; Turner Bequest LXXXI 31). In the painting as Turner finally resolved it, Apollo appears in the left foreground, kneeling by the edge of the water.
1
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.82 no.115, pl.119.
2
Finberg 1909, I, p.216.
3
See David Solkin, Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1982, pp. 200–1.
Technical notes:
There is black and white chalk offset from folio 35 verso opposite (D04970; Turner Bequest LXXXI 68).

Andrew Wilton
May 2013

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