Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes on Sunlight


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 115 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CVIII 87 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
[?so] small, leaving the world to darkness | that the power of shade increases as the | power of casting shadows fail [?and are] | but faintly traced while as Young whose | observation seems apposite expresses
“As some high tower or lofty mountain brow
Retains the sun illustrious from its hight
While damp and darkness [?cloud] the spacious vale
and in the rising orb the eye is sensible of | discerning half the circle before it can detect | any positive shadow form’d, and the distant | objects that intervene cannot be found to | form any lines upon the part illumin’d | untill the whole O has risen the hight | is evidently more defined and colors any | object it strikes upon and consequently leave | that in shadow whose surface is no opposed | to the orb, yet the positive shadow casts | not untill the greatest part of the O is visible
This passage follows on from folio 88 verso (D07505) and continues on the recto of the present leaf (D07502). It is part of a sequence beginning on folio 91 verso (D07511), and running back to folio 82 verso (D07493). John Gage has discussed these provisional notes (not developed in the perspective lectures) as an example of Turner’s close observation of natural phenomena,1 in this case the question of sunlight travelling in parallel lines or otherwise, responding to a chapter of The Art of Painting by Gérard de Lairesse (1640–1711), in the English translation by John Frederick Frisch (London 1738 and later editions).2 See under D07511 for a discussion of Lairesse’s text. Maurice Davies has registered Turner’s notes as ‘on light and shadow’, as part of a longer sequence running back to folio 72 verso (D07473).3
Turner’s first line may be an echo of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (lines 3–4): ‘The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, | And leaves the world to darkness and to me’. He then quotes from memory or adapts a passage near the end of ‘Night II’ of The Complaint, by Edward Young:

Matthew Imms
June 2008

Gage 1969, p.252 note 217.
Ibid., p.178, as ‘TB CVIII, pp. 99a–82a’ (first folio actually 91a); see also Davies 1992, pp.51, 108 note 85.
Davies 1994, p.289.
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.

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