Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram: Geometry of Standard Perspective as the Intersection of the Cone of Vision


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 480 × 600 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 2

Display caption

This lecture diagram shows that a perspective representation is equivalent to a tracing on a pane of glass between the artist and the object.
The artist is at a fixed point. He looks with one eye at the object (labelled BFDA). The object's perspective representation (labelled bfda) is formed where straight lines (representing rays of light) from the object to the artist's eye (E) pass through the picture (labelled OPRQ).

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Prepared in connection with his lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Turner’s diagram is based on a plate from Dr Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy; both in Theory and Practice: in Two Books (London 1768, vol.II, pl.I, fig.1) by John Joshua Kirby (1716–74). Turner paraphrases portions of Kirby’s accompanying text in two different manuscripts. The first appears in a manuscript used for lecturing, perhaps in 1819.1 Another passage occurs in a manuscript which, in the opinion of Maurice Davies, ‘may have been used to support other lecture texts when examples of perspective were required. It is almost certainly later than 1821 as many of the related diagrams are on paper watermarked 1823’.2 This second passage on ‘definitions and axioms’ begins a section describing a wide variety of methods of perspective, which Davies considers to be a later, extended version of Turner’s history of perspective techniques. Here Turner defines point of sight, original object, vanishing line, vanishing point, plane and many other terms.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 Z folios 2–5. On the lecture manuscript, see Maurice William Davies, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s Approach to Perspective in His Royal Academy Lectures of 1811’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 1994, p.279.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 AA folios 5, 5 verso; Davies 1994, p.280. See also John Gage, Colour in Turner; Poetry and Truth, London 1969, p.249 note 170 for a claim that MS AA may have been the first lecture of 1821.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower writes that sheet is Royal size Whatman paper made by William Balston, at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent.1
Notes in Tate catalogue files.
Blank, save for an inscription by an unknown hand in pencil ‘31’ bottom left.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Supported by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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