Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Vision 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: 232 × 310 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 197

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The most substantial piece in Samuel Rogers's volume Poems was the 'Voyage of Columbus', a celebratory narrative describing Columbus's arrival in America. In this vignette, Turner's sky serves a symbolic function; its 'baleful light' has been invaded by the marching ranks of armed spirits, the ghostly warriors of Atlantis. For these details, Turner followed Rogers's poem quite closely, but this does not detract from the power of his own invention. The development of this image can be traced from a rough pencil sketch on the back of the finished vignette, which sets out the basic composition, including the fantastic sky. The lower study is one of two colour drafts for this subject.

Gallery label, September 2004

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