Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes on Painting in Relation to Poetry

c.1809

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 88 × 115 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D07438
Turner Bequest CVIII 48 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
Motion is conveyed by word and values | or impetuosity is given to the most sluggish | of perception parts of the mind when | the reader must feel the importance of the | [...] and is borne impertuble tho [i.e. ‘through’] the rank | or in Dryden line he recognize the sea- | beat shore
and wave impelld on wave harsh breaking
on the shore
another line of Pope
but as the eye has by observation atraction | & certain quality and forms which approach | or at first glance [?accommodate] the idea of | motion as we admire the friezes of Polide | to be procession or that the Horse curveting | is in motion is all that the Painter can | succeed while the Poet gives its [?concomitant]1
These notes are the last in a sequence beginning at folio 53 verso (see entry for D07448) and continuing back through the sketchbook. The previous passage is opposite on folio 49 recto (D07439).
Turner quotes similar images of waves on the seashore from John Dryden and Alexander Pope. The first is from the line ‘Gay myrtles blossom on the sea-beat shore’ in Dryden’s translation of Virgil,2 first published in 1697. Part of an extended description of an army in terms of natural forces, the quotation from Pope is rather inexact; the lines from his 1715–20 translation of Homer’s Iliad actually run:
The wave behind impels the wave before,
Wide-rolling, foaming high, and tumbling to the shore.3
Turner would have known these translations from his 1795 set of Robert Anderson’s Works of the British Poets.4 Without transcribing this page directly, Jerrod Ziff has given its general sense that the poet ‘can imbue the same motion with connotation’, apparently an alternative and feasible reading of Turner’s last word.5

Matthew Imms
June 2008

1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.138 (transcription, followed here with slight variations).
2
Virgil, Georgics, II, 140.
3
Homer, Iliad, XIII, 1004–5.
4
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.13.
5
Ziff 1964, p.198; Lindsay 1966, p.241 follows this reading.

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