Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 36: Basic Perspective Construction of a House


On loan

Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum (Worcester, UK): Turner: Ambitions in Architecture and the Art of Perspective

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 677 x 1005 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 80

Display caption

Here Turner develops the double cube of Diagram 35 (shown to the left) into a house with basic architectural features, such as a door, cornice and pitched roof. His intention was to show how the cube – which he describes as the ‘cornerstone of our fabric’ – is ‘convertible into a building by subdivisions and additions’.

Gallery label, July 2004

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Catalogue entry

Prepared by Turner for Lecture 3 as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Diagram 36 demonstrates how to develop the simple double cube or rectangular object of shown in Diagram 35 (Tate D17049; Turner Bequest CXCV 79) into a house with basic architectural features. Turner’s intention is to illustrate how ‘every cube and circle is convertible into a building by subdivisions or addition’.1 He uses a plan-based method to find the position of the structure’s windows, door, pediment, and cornice. The procedure is discussed in the early version of Lecture 3 and also in the manuscript used for lecturing.2 According to Maurice Davies, because Turner failed to accurately locate the vanishing points when drawing the double cube in the previous diagram, the error is continued in this perspective construction of the house. That Turner’s mistake is so fundamental, yet his experience of perspective so extensive, leads Davies to conclude that Turner may simply not have been concerned with the geometrical accuracy of perspective methods.3 Instead, Turner may have drawn elements of the diagram free-hand, possibly basing it on a small sketch recorded in the first draft of Lecture 3.4 Another diagram numbered 36 (Tate D17052; Turner Bequest CXCV 82) is a watercolour drawing of the same house in perspective, and may illustrate as the final step of the procedure.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 8.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 F folios 5 verso–8 verso and M folios 8–11 verso. For later additions to material, see M folios 33 and verso and Z folios 4 –5, 9.
Davies 1992, p.45.
Davies 1994, p.116; Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 F folio 5 verso.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower states that the sheet is Double Elephant size Whatman paper made by William Balston, at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent. The largest group within the perspective drawings, this batch of paper shows a ‘grid-like series of shadows that can be seen within the sheet in transmitted light. This appears to have been caused by a trial method of supporting the woven wire mould cover on the mould’. Because this is the only batch he has seen with such a feature, Bower believes that ‘it may have been tried on one pair of moulds and for some reason never tried again’. He also writes that it is ‘not the best Whatman paper by any means; the weight of this group is also very variable and the moulds have not been kept clean during use’.1
Notes in Tate catalogue fioes.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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