Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes on Reflected Light

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: 115 × 88 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D07477
Turner Bequest CVIII 74 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
These reflections upon the nature of [?reflec[ | [?tions] may appear [?tired oppresive] and | digresing but as reflections in general have | been in all the treatises I have seen | neglected, neglected it may without | a[...] we said where one read of | reflected object have satisfied the | following [?criterion] of which I will | lay before my reader a copy of these | of sufficient to the power of [... ?power] | any endeavour to educe what can be | found in nature must be [?useless] and tho | that which can be proved a con[?trad] | to nature is con[...]ing and usefull because | it is con[...] but as it is rather con[...] | us all lucid p[...] to be equal to [...] | bodies and the reflections of bodies are equally | in the bodies themselves and that what is above | must be seen below and those that a
The passage is part of a sequence of notes and diagrams which runs back from folio 79 verso (D07487) to folio 72 verso (D07473). The previous page of notes is folio 75 verso (D07479), and the next is folio 73 verso (D07475). The semi-diagrammatic drawing of a boat on folio 81 verso (D07491) also appears to belong with these notes, concerned with sunlight or light in general in terms of reflections and the casting of light and shadow from polished objects or bodies of water. They relate to Turner’s fifth Royal Academy perspective lecture, on reflection and refraction.
Turner’s text here appears to be related to that of a sheet of manuscript notes and diagrams headed ‘5 Lecture’ (private collection, on long loan to Tate, L01743), which begin: ‘Nothing is so difficult and undefined as | Reflexies, and yet absolutely necessary to | the Painter that the neglect of the attempt | in most of the works of Perspective is | perhaps incomprehensible but | probably most prudent ...’ Maurice Davies has transcribed a similar version from the British Library manuscript of Turner’s fifth lecture.1
Davies has registered most of the notes from folio 91 verso (D07511) to folio 72 verso as ‘on light and shadow’;2 those from folio 91 verso to folio 82 verso (D07493) are distinct, dealing with sunlight as parallel or divergent rays.

Matthew Imms
June 2008

1
Maurice Davies, Turner as Professor: The Artist and Linear Perspective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.50, quoting from Turner’s ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 O folio 1 recto.
2
Davies 1994, p.289.

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