Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Nicolas Poussin’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ (Inscription by Turner)

1802

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 128 × 114 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D04303
Turner Bequest LXXII 26

Catalogue entry

Turner’s comments read:
Orpheus and Eurydice. | The sky rather heavy and of a leaden color | The Buildings a yellowish colour | but finely disposed the middle ground light | and the figures scattere’d and Eurydice | falsely lighted – and am inclined to think | that the red drapery of Orpheus and what is | on the tree (which is beautifully disposed) is too | dissimilar [Finberg: disimular] and distracts the majesty of the | whole composition which is fine (contrasted) the | inferior part is the left bank which | is unnaturally dark, unsuccessfully [Finberg: unusefully] so, for it | over balances all – and renders the right | Bank hard and crude, which for | want of richness renders the sky heavy | and the Painter thought to have | remedy’d this by the colouring of the Figures positively | but it here proves that strong colour’d figures | without proximity avail nothing.
Finberg identified Turner’s subject as ‘Poussin’s “Orphée et Eurydice: paysage”’. For Turner and the Louvre Poussins, see notes on folio 25 verso of this sketchbook (D04302). Like the Diogenes described there, this picture has a splendid landscape setting, this time with strong architectural elements including a smoking Castel Sant’Angelo. The subject is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. At their wedding, Eurydice dies by a snake-bite and Orpheus follows her into the Underworld. Painted about 1650, the picture was acquired by Louis XIV in 1685.

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

Read full Catalogue entry

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