Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: A Draft of Poetry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 69 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXII 4 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s ten short lines, written in the upper half of the page turned vertically, are faint and difficult to make out. A very fragmentary attempt at a transcription is given here:
[?‘T...’ or ‘F...’]
In life gay may
a [...] to grey
D[...] all [...]
[...] all beliefs
No Fish and then, the beuful [...]ay
[...] to chair
[...] one [...]mmer
[...] one Beauty’s hair
Although the lines generally comprise only three or four words, they appear to be poetry.1 There is a similar inscription on folio 3 verso (D08287). The deleted ‘No Fish’ is comparable to the remark ‘Written at Purley on the Thames rainy morning no fishing’ inscribed below verse in the 1809 Frittlewell sketchbook (Tate D07756; Turner Bequest CXII inside back cover), perhaps suggesting that the current lines were composed during a moment of waterside contemplation.

Matthew Imms
September 2013

For the fullest account of such material see Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 18041812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990.

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