Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Destruction of Sodom

? exhibited 1805

Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1460 × 2375 mm
frame: 1845 × 2765 × 205 mm
weight: 112 kg
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner was thirty when he painted this ambitious historical landscape

. It shows his admiration for the grand art of the seventeenth-century painter, Nicolas Poussin, which he had studied in the Louvre during his visit to Paris in 1802.

The subject is from the Book of Genesis. It shows Lot and his two daughters (to the right) fleeing the city of Sodom as 'the Lord rained brimstone and fire' in divine retribution for the sins of its citizens. Lot's wife (on the right of the group) is being turned into a pillar of salt as she turns to look back.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

56. [N00474] The Destruction of Sodom Exh. 1805?

Canvas, 57 1/2 × 93 1/2 (146 × 237·5)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (64, ‘Destruction of Sodom’ 7'10" × 4'10"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. ?Turner's gallery 1805; Tate Gallery 1931 (22); Tate Gallery 1959 (345).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 266; 1877, p. 423; Armstrong 1902, p. 232; MacColl 1920, p. 5; Davies 1946, p. 187; Finberg 1961, pp. 113, 118, 171; Ziff 1963, p. 320; Kitson 1964, pp. 13–15, detail repr. in colour p. 24; Lindsay 1966, p. 87; Ziff 1980, p. 168.

An illustration to Genesis xix, 24–6. On the right Lot and his daughters are shown fleeing the city; MacColl also identifies Lot's wife as a pillar of salt behind them.

The picture was possibly exhibited at Turner's own gallery in 1805 though there is no evidence of this; no list of his exhibits in this year had been traced. In a note of c. 1810 Sodom is included in a list of unsold pictures and valued at £400 (CXXII–36). The sketchbook is watermarked 1804 or 1801 but contains notes dated 1809, 1810, 1812, 1813 and 1814; the list referred to faces a page apparently dated 1809 (see also No. 53). Thornbury dates the picture ‘about 1805’ and the style fits such a dating. Ziff (1963) calls attention to a composition sketch in the ‘Calais Pier’ sketchbook (LXXXI–5) but the composition is not the same. He also draws attention to one of the several academy studies in the same book, p. 17, but this is not particularly relevant, though no doubt all of these studies played their part in Turner's large figure compositions. One of the studies of groups of figures, on p. 158, is fairly close to the group on the right of the painting, but in the drawing the leading figure is an angel with wings.

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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