Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rocky Bay with Figures


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 902 × 1232 mm
frame: 1230 × 1562 × 135 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This unfinished painting was intended to be a subject from Homer's ancient Greek epic poems, the 'Odyssey' or the 'Iliad'. The scenery looks Mediterranean, there are suggestions of figures on the beach at left, with ships in the right distance and under the cliffs at left.

Gallery label, July 2020

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Catalogue entry

434. [N01989] Rocky Bay with Figures c. 1830


Canvas, 36 × 49 (91·5 × 124·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1906.

Exh. Paris 1938 (147, repr.); Amsterdam, Berne, Paris (repr. in colour), Brussels (repr. in colour), Liege (repr. in colour) (33), Venice (repr. in colour) and Rome (repr. in colour) (38) 1947–8; Tate Gallery 1959 (348; not shown); R.A. 1974–5 (483); Leningrad and Moscow 1975–6 (52, repr.).

Lit. MacColl 1920, p. 30; Rothenstein 1949, p. 18, colour pl. 10; Herrmann 1963, p. 27, pl. 11; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 39, pl. 76; Gaunt 1971, p. 7, colour pl. 21.

In composition this is a variation on the theme of a number of the sketches on coarse canvas probably painted in Rome in 1828 (see Nos. 302 [N02958], 303 [N02959] and 309 [N03380]), and also the finished Ulysses deriding Polyphemus exhibited in 1829 (No. 330). But it is very different in technique from the sketches, the paint being worked over, partly with the handle of the brush or even the fingers, to produce infinite gradations of tone; in addition the colouring is much subtler. The sky is as finished in its more delicate style as that of Ulysses deriding Polyphemus and this may be the beginning of another work for exhibition, in Turner's standard 3 ft by 4 ft size; indeed MacColl suggested that it was possibly another episode in the story of Ulysses. It is also related, in reverse, to one of the unpublished Liber Studiorum plates, Glaucus and Scylla (R. 73), but the figures in the painting are different and greater in number and there is a suggestion of long, low ships across the water on the right.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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