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 86 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes, including a diagram occupying about a third of its height:
but the distant objects not visible | [‘make line or shade’ inserted to the right between these lines] but could the same building be opposed to | whole O it would be defined on the [?foursaid] | surface at <treble the distance> according | the system laid down by G L. but it | ceases to produce a shade and seems to | partake very much of the Theory of [...] | Lights and Shadows and the buildings which
Here there is a diagram of rays emanating downwards from the edges of a large disk and and converging along the sides of a small square before meeting just below it. The notes continue:
should certainly be curved as by parallel line | so the first surface oposed is wholy lost while | the shade or rather the intervention of the | rising light by that building appear diverge | [?in vision at] 2
This follows on from the opposite page, folio 87 recto (D07502), and continues on folio 85 verso (D07499). The final ‘2’ appears to refer to the diagram heading the notes on the opposite page, showing a building against the sky. The passage 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 folio 84 verso (D07497)), 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.

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