Joseph Mallord William Turner

Greenwich Hospital, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 192 × 254 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 176

Catalogue entry

Greenwich Hospital was engraved by Edward Goodall and published as an illustration to Part II of a long poem entitled ‘The Pleasures of Memory’ in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems.1 While the first section of the poem explores the relationship between memory and the senses, the next section discusses memory as the preserve of ‘the treasures of art and science, history and philosophy’.2 This idea is elucidated with the example of Greenwich Hospital:
Go, with old Thames, view Chelsea’s glorious pile;
And ask the shattered hero, whence his smile?
Go, view the splendid domes of Greenwich – Go,
And own what raptures from Reflection flow.
Hail, noblest structures imagined in the wave!
A nation’s grateful tribute to the brave.
Hail, blest retreats from war and shipwreck, hail!
That oft arrest the wondering stranger’s sail.
(Poems, p.33)
Turner highlighted this passage with pencil lines in the margin of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI p.39) and chose to picture the ‘splendid domes’ of Greenwich hospital in his illustration. The institution was established at the end of the seventeenth century as a residential home for retired sailors and remained open to pensioners until 1869. It represented a triumph of British architecture, having been designed by a number of great names including John Webb (1611–1642) and Christopher Wren (1632–1723). Turner’s drawing showcases the scale and elaborate façade of the building, while the myriad boats in the foreground highlight the hospital’s long-standing association with the British navy.
A reviewer in the Athenaeum singled this illustration out for praise: ‘From woods and brooks, Turner boldly wafts us to the Thames, puts us into a boat, and bids us admire the glories of Greenwich; the architecture of Wren, and the majestic river, harmonize well.’3 Another contemporary critic was especially pleased with the figure standing by a telescope in the left-hand foreground: ‘Every one must remember the bring-em-nears as they called their telescopes, by the loan of which they realise a few pence during the summer months’.4
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.33; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.377. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04673).
Rogers 1834, p.25.
Athenaeum, no. 320, 14 December 1833, p.841.
Arnold’s Magazine of the Fine Arts, vol.3, no.3, Jan 1734, p.275. Quoted in Piggott 1993, p.83.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.97.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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