Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes on Sunlight; with a Diagram


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 84 a

Catalogue entry

The top two thirds of the page are taken up with the following notes:
and as the shadows of objects are rather | increased than diminished the further it | is removed from the surface on which it | strikes, but the more removed it should be | remarked it is less defined than that which is [...] | and therefore must deviate a little from the | rules laid down by my predecesor as far as | relates to shadow at a <distance> from the | a distant object. which in[...] | to the [...] and indeed almost the | whole from the [...] treatise <to the> | concur to think shadows are continued | ad infinitum.
Below is a diagram showing disks at two heights on the right, the lower with rays emanating horizontally from its edges to the left in parallel across the width of the page, with a further line below serving as the horizon. The rays continue through or across three lines representing vertical features. The light from the upper disk is implied only by a line running at a shallow diagonal from the top of the first vertical, reading as the edge of a cast shadow running down to the horizon line, below which is inscribed ‘1000 yds’.
This passage follows on from folio 85 verso (D07499) and continues on folio 83 verso (D07495). 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
Gage has also mentioned this particular passage ‘on the development of a sunrise’ (running from folio 87 recto (D07502) to the present page), in the context of Turner’s keen observations of light, weather and water, more commonly expressed visually in his sketches.4

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 Gage 1987, pp.71–3, and 247 note 74.
Gage 1969, pp.107, 248 note 159; see also Maurice Davies, Turner as Professor: The Artist and Linear Perspective, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1992, p.104 note 4.

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