Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Nicolas Poussin’s ‘Gathering of the Manna’ (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 128 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXII 26 a

Catalogue entry

For Turner and the Louvre Poussins, see folio 25 verso of this sketchbook (D04302).
Finberg identified the subject of these notes as Poussin’s ‘“Les Isréalites recueillant la Manne”’. This Old Testament (Exodus) subject was painted in 1639 for Poussin’s patron Jean Fréart de Chantelou and acquired by Louis XIV’s Chancellor, Fouquet, and then by the King himself.
Turner’s comments here are continued on folio 27 of this sketchbook (D04305) but for convenience are given in full below:
The Gathering of the Manna | is the grandest system of light and | shadow in the Collection. The figures of | equall power occupy the sides and are | color’d alike. They carry severally their | satellites of colour into the very centre of | the picture where Moses unites to them by | being in Blue and red. This strikes me to be the | soul of the subject as it creates a harmonious | confusion, a confusion of parts so arranged | as to fall into the sides and by strong colour | acting as [Finberg: meeting in] a background to the side | figures which are in Blue and Yellow, so | artfully arranged that the Art of causing | this confusion without distraction is | completely hid. The centre has been touch’d | particularly Moses and I think all the Red drapery in the Shadows and by a print I bought [continued on folio 27 of this sketchbook (D04305)] which here confirms in this opinion, the | Print I have touch’d by the Picture and | find that the light in the Sky is not Poussins.
In support of Turner’s observation, Finberg recorded seeing an engraving of the picture by G. Chasteau, published in 1680, ‘in which the sky is certainly brighter than that in Poussin’s picture’. In his more general remarks on Poussin on folio 27, Turner went on to claim that all his pictures in the Louvre had ‘been heightened in the Blues and Reds’; see D04305 for a full transcription. Turner further discussed The Gathering of the Manna in his Perspective lectures at the Royal Academy (VI, 1812), citing it as an example of the power of ‘Historical colour’ to represent ‘langour and misery’.1

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

For Turner’s lecture see Gage 1969, p.200.

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