Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Gipsy, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 250 × 298 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 173

Catalogue entry

The Gipsy was engraved by Edward Goodall and published as an illustration to Part I of a long poem ‘The Pleasures of Memory’ in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems.1 The vignette appears beneath the following lines:
Down by yon hazel copse, at evening, blazed
The Gipsy’s fagot – there we stood and gazed;
Gazed on her sun-burnt face with silent awe,
Her tattered mantle, and her hood of straw;
Her moving lips, her caldron brimming o’er;
The drowsy brood that on her back she bore,
Imps, in the barn with mousing owlet bred,
From rifled roost at nightly revel fed;
Whose dark eyes flashed thro’ locks of blackest shade, ...
As o’er my palm the silver piece she drew,
And traced the line of life with searching view,
How throbbed my fluttering pulse with hopes and fears,
To learn the colour of my future years!
(Poems, pp.12–13)
Besides the inclusion of a cauldron and a fire on the right-hand side and the pink evening light with the sun setting in the background, Turner’s illustration bears little relation to Rogers’s rather theatrical description of his encounter with a gypsy fortune teller. In contrast to the mysterious scene evoked in the poem, Turner’s vignette shows a modest gypsy camp with a couple of figures cooking a meal over the fire and laundry hanging on a washing line nearby. The quotidian nature of these activities, in addition to the sunlit windmill and the two small children in the middle distance, gives the scene a pastoral tone. However, Turner’s gypsies could still be read as objects of anxiety. Writing in the Athenaeum, one anonymous author described the engraved scene with typical prejudiced hostility: ‘in a sheltered spot, the vagrants have turned their asses out to graze; raised a rude, triangle over a fire, and suspended a pot, in which a venerable sibyl is preparing a stew, to which the neighbouring preserves and henroosts have doubtless contributed’.2
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.11; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.375. There are no impressions of this engraving in Tate’s collection.
Athenaeum, no. 320, 14 December 1833, p.841.
?Blank [Pasted to mount]

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry


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