Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Return of Chryseis


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 150 x 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 34

Catalogue entry

For the various versions in this sketchbook of an ancient seaport with figures embarking or landing, see note to folio 1 (D05491). This composition is similar to one facing it on folio 33 verso (D05540) and there is a coloured version on folio 38 verso (D05550). For Hill, the foreground ‘seems Carthaginian, but the distance more like the Thames at Richmond’. Another classical transposition of Richmond scenery is on folio 33 (D05539).
Finberg’s reading of Turner’s inscription is expanded, surely correctly, by Nicholson in a discussion of Turner’s subjects from Homer’s Iliad. She sees Turner’s focus on the story of Chryses and Chryseis in Book 1 as characteristic of his sympathy with the victims of war and with ‘helplessness in the face of unreasonable forces’. Chryseis (or Astynome), daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo, is taken as booty by the Greeks, causing him much anguish; she is returned following his direct appeal to the god, who sends a plague upon her captors, and the intervention of Ulysses. Here, Turner seems to have sketched an idea for her restitution, while in his notes on a further coloured study of a slightly different seaport on folio 49 verso (D05568) he gave ‘Ulysses ... [arrival] at Cryse’ as one possibility for its subject, meaning Ulysses’s return of the captive girl; and on the facing page, folio 59 (D05569), further options include ‘Ulysses with Chryseis offering her to her Father’. Nicholson observes Turner’s fidelity to the poem in his introduction of Ulysses, and also to the artistic precedent of Claude’s Seaport with Ulysses Restituting Chryseis (Louvre, Paris) which he could have seen in Paris in 1802 or perhaps knew in reproduction.
See folios 61 verso and 69 (D05588, D05597) for sketches partly connected with Turner’s 1811 watercolour Chryses (private collection),1 which depicts the priest’s prayer to Apollo.

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.356 no.492.

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