Joseph Mallord William Turner

List of Biblical and Other Subjects (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 150 × 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 56 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscriptions read ‘Jacob and Esau | Jacob and Rachel | Popes [Windsor Forest deleted] Pastoral or Garth’s | a Shepherd’s Boy, he seeks no better name | leading his Flock beside the Silver Thames | Laban searching for his Images’.
The story of Jacob is told in Genesis, 25–33. Jacob and Esau were twin sons of Isaac, the first a deceitful schemer and his brother a naive innocent. Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and turned their father against him, then fled to Harran where he met Rachel. Her father, Laban, though as underhand as he was, was nevertheless tricked by them both into handing over his daughters, his sheep and his altar with its statues. Rachel connived with Jacob to hide them, and Laban searched for them among the tents in vain. As well as the Bible, Turner alludes to the poet Alexander Pope and his friend Dr Samuel Garth, to whom Pope’s second pastoral, Summer (1709), was dedicated. He misquotes its opening lines, ‘A Shepherd’s Boy (he seeks no better name) | Led forth his flocks along the silvery Thame’, and mistakenly credits them to Pope’s later pastoral, Windsor Forest (1713), before presumably checking their source and deleting this reference. Turner reworked these same lines himself in the Boats, Ice sketchbook (Tate D06713; folio 87 verso); ‘A Shepherd Boy with [labourers inserted] mien leads | his flock by Thames flowry meads’.
Hill’s notion that these very different ideas were alternative subjects for the classical landscape composition on folio 57 (D05581) seems unlikely to this writer. Grigson’s comment that Turner’s quotation from Pope ‘gets itself included among sketches of river scenery ... within sight of Windsor Castle’ derives from Finberg’s belief that many views in the sketchbook were of that subject; see Introduction.

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

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