Joseph Mallord William Turner

Christ and the Woman of Samaria


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 204 x 263 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXVIII O

Catalogue entry

Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Thomas Hodgetts, ‘CHRIST AND THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA’, published Turner, 1 January 1819
In his only New Testament subject for the Liber Studiorum, Turner represented the episode from St John’s Gospel, where Christ meets a Samaritan woman at a well and speaks with her, metaphorically expressing His purpose:
If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. ... Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.1
As Gillian Forrester has suggested,2 Turner may have derived his basic structure from the painting A Roman Road (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), then thought to be by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) but now considered a copy after a lost original. He certainly knew the work, which had possibly been in the collection of William Beckford, his early patron, until 1802. The fundamental similarity lies in the road which recedes to a central vanishing point in each composition; other elements such as seated figures, large blocks of stone, trees and a distant, classical townscape are common to both but in entirely different arrangements.
Ian Warrell has proposed the indirect influence of Claude Lorrain, the artist more frequently associated with Turner’s project through his own Liber Veritatis (see general Liber introduction), relating the arch and tower in the distance to those Turner sketched at Ligny-en-Barrois in the Meuse department of Lorraine, on his way back through France during his first Continental tour in 1802. Turner had by-passed Chamagne, Claude’s birthplace in the Vosges further to the east, but would have been aware of the region’s association with its artist namesake, and ‘may well have been looking specifically for motifs that could have inspired his predecessor.’3
John 4:10, 13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.133.
Ian Warrell in Warrell, Chavanne and Kitson 2002, p.188.
Reproduced ibid., p.65, fig.41.
Rev. Stopford [Augustus] Brooke, Notes on the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., revised ed., London 1885, pp.246–7.
Ibid., p.247.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.160 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.135–41; 1906, pp.159–66; 1924, pp.265–84.
Forrester 1996, p.133.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.276 no.433, pl.438 (colour).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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