Joseph Mallord William Turner

Venus and the Dead Adonis


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 318 × 451 mm
frame: 345 × 480 × 35 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

This picture was given its title after Turner's death. The pose of the Venus recalls the work of the great Venetian painter Titian (circa 1487-1576), whose pictures Turner studied closely in the early 1800s. Apart from the bearing this fact has on our view of how Turner's style developed, it is also an apt reminder of how Renaissance artists, Titian especially, explored the classical world and reinvigorated, on canvas, the ancient stories.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

151. [N05493] Venus and the Dead Adonis c. 1805?

Canvas, 12 1/2 × 17 3/4 (31·5 × 45)
Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (? 183, I unidentified 1'5 1/2" × 1'0 1/2"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1947.

Lit. Davies 1946, p. 160; Ziff 1980, p. 169.

The back of the canvas, where not masked by the stretcher, was covered by a fairly thin layer of brown paint, partly covered by dryish white paint, bumpy in places; this had to be removed prior to the laying down of the canvas on a synthetic board, but a photograph exists.

It is very difficult to date this little picture. The figures' somewhat Titianesque poses suggest a date not too far from Turner's study of Titian's works in the Louvre in 1802, which led to the large painting of an earlier episode in the story of Venus and Adonis, No. 150. Indeed, the ‘Calais Pier’ sketchbook includes, as well as sketches for that picture, others for a ‘Death of Adonis’, never executed, though these are not directly related to this little oil sketch (LXXXI-48 and 52). On the other hand, the head of the dead Adonis is not very different from Head of a Person asleep, here dated c. 1835 (No. 452 [N05494]). The picture could perhaps therefore reflect Turner's return to Titianesque subjects and techniques on his second visit to Rome of 1828–9. In his review of the first edition of this catalogue Jerrold Ziff supports an early dating, c. 1803–5.

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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