Joseph Mallord William Turner

Classical Landscape with Figures before an Arch: ?Mercury and Herse


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 258 × 150 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 52 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription suggests alternative subjects for this upright classical composition, which has some resemblance to Mercury and Herse, 1811 (on the London art market in 2005)1 and should perhaps be compared with the variant sketches for it beginning on folio 57 of the sketchbook (D05581). Neither that picture, nor Dido and Aeneas, 1814 (Tate N00494)2 for which studies are on folios 17 and 21 (D05513, D05520), has an arch as sketched here. All these classical themes are linked by love or marriage. Turner probably took his idea of Nausicaa, the island-dwelling potential bride of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey, from Alexander Pope’s translation in Robert Anderson’s Works of the British Poets; for this source see note to folio 49 verso (D05568). Nicholson reads the figures sketched here as Nausicaa and her friends engaged in premature preparations for her marriage, washing her wedding garments in a pool. Nicholson points out that Turner addressed the next episode, Nausicaa’s encounter with the shipwrecked Ulysses, in a drawing in the Wey, Guildford sketchbook (Tate D06183; Turner Bequest XCVIII 3) which is rather more developed, with the addition of wash, and shows ‘attention to its charming details’.3

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.80–2 no.114 (pl.122); Sotheby’s sale, 5 July 2005, lot 40.
Ibid., pp.92–3 no.129 (pl.135).
Nicholson 1990, p.272.

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