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 90 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
by the rays of the Sun and the interruption | of those rays by an <...> intervening objects | are parralell but all lights produced | by art and their shadow converge and | diverge to and from a point, tho there | can be no doubt in my mind that they are | the same and the difference produced in | nature is only by the various proportions | of light. Find the proportion of the inter | vening objects to produce shade and [?could] | we but place an object to be illumind or | cast in shade of the proportion in every | respect to magnitude of the O disk we | should conclude them parallel whereas | my young friends must be aware that I | feel disposed to think they [?increase], and | indeed philsopicaly considered I cannot | suppose them otherwise for the Theory of | G. L. principly depends upon the under | parts being always in shade and therefore | the suns rays must be always parall
This passage follows on from the opposite page, folio 91 recto (D07510), and continues on the recto of this leaf (D07508). 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

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.

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