Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Visit to the Tomb

exhibited 1850

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 914 × 1219 mm
frame: 1296 × 1607 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner's final exhibits at the Royal Academy were four pictures of Dido and Aeneas. According to his housekeeper he worked on all four paintings 'in rotation.'

This canvas is the third in the series. In the foreground are Dido, Queen of Carthage (in white) and Aeneas (in red), accompanied by Cupid in disguise. They are visiting the tomb of Dido's husband, Sychaeus, in the hope that his memory might restrain her fatal passion for Aeneas. Turner showed the picture with a line from his poem, The Fallacies of Hope: 'The sun went down in wrath at such deceit.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

431. [N00555] The Visit to the Tomb Exh. 1850


Canvas, 36 × 48 (91·5 × 122)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (32, ‘The visit to the Tomb’ 4'0" × 3'0"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1905.

Exh. R.A. 1850 (373); Whitechapel 1953 (101); Edinburgh 1968 (24, repr.).

Lit. Thornbury 1862, i, p. 349; 1877, p. 467; Hamerton 1879, pp. 297–8; Bell 1901, p. 159 no. 267; Armstrong 1902, p. 236; MacColl 1920, p. 26; Davies 1946, pp. 152–3, 186; Finberg 1961, pp. 427, 511 no. 588; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 73, pl. 127; Ziff 1964, pp. 24–7, pl. 2; Lindsay 19662, pp. 52–3; Gage 1969, pp. 98, 187, 244 n. 105; Reynolds 1969, pp. 204–5, pl. 176; Herrmann 1975, pp. 55, pl. 182; Fehl 1976, p. 129, pl. 22; Wilton 1979, pp. 233, 244.

Exhibited in 1850 with the line:

‘The sun went down in wrath at such deceit.’

MS., Fallacies of Hope.

Jerrold Ziff has pointed out that Turner probably took this incident from Dryden's translation of Ovid's Epistles: Dido to Æneas.

The Times for 4 May 1850 asked ‘what tomb?’ and indeed there is no description of such a visit in Virgil, though Dido does take Æneas to see how the building of Carthage is progressing. The reference is presumably to the tomb of Dido's husband, Sychaeus, in whose memory she tried to control her love for Æneas; Turner had shown the tomb in his picture of Dido building Carthage, exhibited in 1815 (see No. 131 [N00498]). The two figures of Dido and Æneas, on the left, are accompanied by Cupid, substituting for Ascanius as in No. 429 [N00553]. For contemporary reviews of this picture see No. 429 [N00553].

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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