Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figure Studies Related to ‘The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 171 × 262 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCIII 1 a

Catalogue entry

One of a number of ideas in this sketchbook for the composition and figure groupings in The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides exhibited at the British Institution in 1806 (Tate N00477);1 the others are folios 3, 3 verso and 8–10 (D05770, D05771, D05779–D05783), and probably a further series of often rather slighter sketches, on folios 28 verso, 29 verso, 30, 31, 31 verso, 32 verso, 33 verso and 34 verso (D05813, D05815, D05816, D05818, D05819, D05821, D05823, D05825). The quantity of these sketches and studies accounts for the naming of the sketchbook; see Introduction. Here the figures are related to those in the foreground of the picture, especially one on the right which roughly corresponds to the standing woman on the right of the picture.
In these drawings, Turner can be seen striving towards his own original interpretation of a subject that was to become his most ambitious classically-themed historic landscape painting thus far. At a bridal feast, described by Turner in associated verses as that of Psyche rather than Thetis as in the original sources,2 Discord chooses the apple that will eventually be awarded by Paris to the goddess Aphrodite, leading to the Trojan War. Turner sets the action in a mountainous landscape based on his recollections of the Alps and knowledge, presumably from engravings, of Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with Polyphemus (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). The Hesperides who inhabit this ‘garden’ are nymphs of sunset and daughters of night. The picture has been interpreted as an alchemical allegory of earth, air, fire and water 3 and its theme of discord has parallels both with the current war with Napoleonic France and with professional tensions arising within the administration of the Royal Academy and between it and the newly-formed British Institution where Turner chose to exhibit the picture. The Institution promoted pictures painted in homage to Old Masters like Poussin, but was soon resented by artists because it was run by collectors and connoisseurs and reflected their tastes.4 Although an exhibitor from 1806, Turner seems to have become critical by about 1814.

David Blayney Brown
October 2007

Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.44–6 no.57 (pl.67).
For the ‘Ode to Discord’ in Turner’s Verse Book (private collection) see Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, pp.149–50.
John Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London 1969, pp.137–9. For further analysis of the picture see Kathleen Nicholson, Turner’s Classical Landscapes: Myth and Meaning, Princeton 1990, pp.76–83.
Luke Herrmann, ‘British Institution’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin, and Luke Herrmann eds., The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.31–2.

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