Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Landing of Columbus, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 181 × 245 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 191

Catalogue entry

This is one of seven illustrations that Turner produced for ‘The Voyage of Columbus’, a miniature epic poem which is the final work in the published volume of Rogers’s Poems (for a brief description of the poem, see Tate D27705; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188). The seven vignettes in order of their appearance in Rogers’s text are: Tate D27705, D27706, D27714, D27707, D27708, D27719, D27709; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188, 189, 197, 190, 191, 202, 192.
Like all of the ‘Columbus’ series, The Landing of Columbus was engraved by Edward Goodall.1 The vignette appears as the head-piece to Canto IX,2 where Rogers describes the joyful disembarkation of Columbus and his crew, followed by their peaceful encounter with the natives of America:
Long on the deep the mists of morning lay,
Then rose, revealing, as they rolled away,
Half-circling hills, whose everlasting woods
Sweep with their sable skirts the shadowy floods:
Slowly, bare-headed, thro’ the surf we bore
The sacred cross, and, kneeling, kissed the shore.
But what a scene was there? Nymphs of romance,
Youths graceful as the Faun, with eager glance,
Spring from the glades, and down the alleys peep,
Then head-long rush, bounding from steep to steep,
And clap their hands, exclaiming as they run,
“Come and behold the Children of the Sun!”
(Poems, pp.251–2)
The Landing of Columbus echoes the composition of an earlier illustration, A Vision (see Tate D27714; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 197) mirroring the line of ominous warrior spirits with the procession of Columbus’s crew onto the shore. Columbus’s act of bringing Christianity to the ‘New World’ is literally acted out by the two cross-bearing figures near the head of the line. Edward Goodall’s son, Frederick, believed that these figures were re-drawn by Stothard for the engraved version, although the close similarity between the print and Turner’s watercolour seems to suggest he was mistaken.3 The joyful and providential tone of the scene is highlighted in the watercolour by Turner’s brilliant palette, particularly the preponderance of shimmering golden colour. As Jan Piggott has observed, Rogers’s description is set in the morning and that Turner’s image is meant to show the moment when ‘the sun of faith symbolically rises on the New World’.4
W. G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.402. There are three impressions in Tate’s collection (T05128, T05129, and T06174).
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.251.
Piggott 1993, p.43. See also Frederick Goodall, The Reminiscences of Frederick Goodall, R.A.., London 1902, p.69.
Piggott 1993, p.43.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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