Joseph Mallord William Turner

Steamer and Lightship; a study for ‘The Fighting Temeraire’


Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 1197 mm
frame: 1227 × 1531 × 155 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

279. [N05478] Steamer and Lightship c. 1825–30


Canvas, 36 × 47 7/8 (91·5 × 121·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (115, one of 36 each 4'0" × 3'0"; identified 1946 by chalk number on back); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Lit. Davies 1946, pp. 158, 188 n. 14.

Written on the back of the canvas in chalk, in Turner's roughest hand, are six or seven lines of verse plus, the other way up, three more, the first written on the wooden stretcher. It must be presumed that Turner turned to this picture, face against the wall, as the first surface ready to hand to draft verses just as he normally did in his notebooks. The verses presumably do not relate to this picture, which Turner may well have regarded as abandoned before using it in this fashion; for a near parallel one may cite the use of the back of Jacob's Ladder as a palette (see No. 435 [N05507]). Even using infra-red photography it has only been possible to pick out isolated phrases and words. From the larger inscription one can possibly make out:

That Light which [5 words] to Glory
Now blushes Red at his disgrace
Now witness his disgrace and [3 or more words]

She might have spared with the corded oak [2 words]

Thou art [1 word] tho thy [2 words] yet [1 word] the Earth
[1 word] when you [1 word, then space, then 4 words] brightens the Eve

The shorter inscription is virtually illegible. (The compiler is indebted to Dr John Gage for assistance in identifying the hand and many of the words of these verses.)

The inventory number ‘115’ can also be seen in the reproduction of the back of the canvas.

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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