J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Glaucus and Scylla c.1810-15

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Glaucus and Scylla circa 1810–15
Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 223 x 279 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil ‘Departure of Theseus’ top centre
Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan 1900
Henry Vaughan by 1878, and possibly by 1862
(see main catalogue entry)
The merman-like Glaucus, seen here beckoning to the nymph Scylla from the sea, was rejected by her. The sorceress Circe, from whom Glaucus subsequently sought assistance in winning her, fell in love with him herself and spitefully changed Scylla’s lower body into a pack of dogs; she was later transformed again, becoming a dangerous rock in the sea.1 The design, engraved but not published, is one of several Liber Studiorum subjects based on stories of love and/or transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the others are Cephalus and Procris and Aesacus and Hesperie (see Tate D08144, D08166; Turner Bequest CXVII P, CXVIII L), and Appulia in Search of Apullus, Pan and Syrinx and Narcissus and Echo.2
The composition has affinities with the landscapes of Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis prints after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber Studiorum introduction), nos.165 (Sea Coast with Christ Calling SS Andrew and Peter)3 and 184 (Coast Scene with Perseus, known as ‘The Origin of Coral’).4 Ruskin attacked the supposed way the ‘blundering, pseudo-picturesque, pseudo-classical minds of Claude and the Renaissance landscape painters ... appointed the type of “classical landscape” thenceforward to consist of a bay of insipid sea, and a rock with a hole through it.’ Nevertheless, he considered that ‘Turner gave the hackneyed composition a strange power and freshness’ in this composition,5 and wrote to W.G. Rawlinson: ‘I love it as a bit of Greek shore itself.’6 Turner would again associate a coastal arch with a classical subject in his later, unfinished painting Rocky Bay with Figures (Tate N01989).7 A more contemporary source has been suggested for the present design:8 Benjamin West’s Homeric subject The First Interview of Telemachus with Calypso; although the original painting exhibited in 1773 is untraced and its apparently reversed engraving not published until 1824,9 Turner may have known the version probably shown at the Royal Academy in 1801.10 There are fundamental similarities, with male mythological characters and the sea to the left below a bright sky, and a female group on a wooded shore to the right.
There has been extensive discussion of the ties between the figures and their environment. Kathleen Nicholson has noted how the arch ‘seals off their little bay – and their emotional encounter – from the rest of the world. This element of the landscape graphically describes their opposed desires, both joining and separating them through its arch and void. ... the story is recounted through the simple expressiveness of its setting.’11 Andrew Wilton has described how Turner ‘dramatises his subject by stressing the elemental significance of the characters ... so that each belongs to his or her own element’ and expressing, as often elsewhere, ‘the ambiguous relationship of human beings to the sea’.12 Eric Shanes has also commented on Turner’s use of ‘the inner shape of the rock-arch to repeat and reinforce the shape Scylla makes’ – further emphasised in the print – with the sharp rocks above Glaucus alluding ‘to poor Scylla’s coming fate’,13 transformation into an element of the landscape itself.
The present landscape is closely related to that of Turner’s watercolour of another Greek mythical subject, Chryses, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 (private collection),14 showing the priest of Apollo kneeling and bowing down to the god, in the form of the sun, on a similar beach with a wooded arch beyond. A pencil figure in Chryses’s distinctive pose can still be made out immediately below the arch in the Liber design, suggesting that Turner may have considered making this a version of the exhibited composition. There are three adjacent studies of similar landscapes in the Wey, Guildford sketchbook of 1805, in pencil, brown wash and ink outline respectively (Tate D06184, D06185, D06187; Turner Bequest XCVIII 3a, 4, 5a). The first two include a figure in the position corresponding to Scylla, the one in pencil showing a rough silhouette suggesting someone running with raised arms, though in the ink version the figure appears to be standing, and is labelled ‘[?Crises]’. Ruskin’s endorsement of the contemporary Shipwreck (1) sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest LXXXVII) mentions ‘Pencil studies of Shipwreck, Glaucus & Scylla, &c.’15 but there now appears to be no trace of studies for the latter in the book, which may have suffered other losses before being rebound in its present order.
The inscription ‘Departure of Theseus’ at the top of the present drawing – also inscribed ‘Glaucus. Scylla’ on the verso (D41516) – suggests Turner was considering a third seashore subject from Greek myth, Theseus’s abandonment of Ariadne on the island of Naxos; as has been noted, he added distant sails (perhaps Theseus’s) to the later proofs of the related engraving.16 He eventually adapted Titian’s treatment of a subsequent episode in his square painting Bacchus and Ariadne, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840 (Tate N00525).17 A painting in a similar format, reworking the Liber subject, Glaucus and Scylla was exhibited at the RA in 1841 (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth);18 though differing in detail throughout, the fundamental juxtapositions of sea, coast, sun and the two protagonists are retained, and Scylla’s contrapposto pose, her right leg raised and bent to indicate running, is echoed. Gillian Forrester has suggested that the 1840s paintings may have been intended as pendants.19
The composition is recorded, as ‘Glacus [sic] and Scylla’, in a list of ‘Historical’ subjects in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12171; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 31); these notes (D12160–D12171; CLIV (a) 25a–31) were apparently made between 1808 and as late as 1818.20 It appears, again as ‘Glacus and Scylla – H’, with various other Liber subjects inside the back cover of the Liber Notes (1) sketchbook (Tate D40871; Turner Bequest CXLIII); Forrester dates Turner’s list to 1815, as two of the subjects were printed by the beginning of 1816.21 It is noted again, as ‘Glacus Say’, in a list (now rubbed and difficult to decipher) of Liber works in progress around 1817–18 inside the back cover of the Aesacus and Hesperie sketchbook (Tate D40933; Turner Bequest CLXIX);22 and, as ‘Say ... Glaucus & Scylla’, with other subjects in the Farnley sketchbook (Tate D11998; Turner Bequest CLIII 2a). The latter list was possibly complied during Turner’s visit to Farnley in November 1818 and is headed ‘Liber Studiorum Plates out Jany 1 1819’.23
The etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by William Say, was among the unpublished Liber Studiorum prints (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.72–91;24 see also Tate D08171–D08178, D25451; Turner Bequest CXVIII U, CCLXIII 328, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII Q, R, S, T, V, W, X; and Tate N02782, N03631). Tate holds an early photographic facsimile of the engraving (Tate A01150).
Although Henry Vaughan certainly owned the present work by 1878,25 he may have had it in his possession as early as 1862. According to its printed lettering, an original mounted photograph in the Witt Library (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) was taken by ‘J. Hogarth Jun.’ when the work was in Vaughan’s possession. Although the publication details have apparently been trimmed from the Witt copy, another photograph in the collection (of Vaughan’s version of the Temple of Jupiter design for the Liber: Tate D08173; Vaughan Bequest CXVIII S) is in the same format but with its lettering intact: ‘London, Published by J. Hogarth, Haymarket, | Dec.31. 1862.’
Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII.900–68 (particularly 906–9), XIV.1–74.
Respectively: Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–5 no.72, 158 no.80, 168 no.90; 1906, pp.169–70 no.72, 183 no.80, 195 no.90; Finberg 1924, pp.287–90 no.72, 319–21 no.80, 359–61 no.90.
Liber Veritatis; or a Collection of Prints after the Original Designs of Claude Le Lorrain ..., London 1777, vol.II, pl.165; from 1665 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–171: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, p.155, reproduced pl.165).
Liber Veritatis, vol.II, pl.184; from 1671 drawing (BM 1957–12–14–190: Kitson, pp.167–8, reproduced pl.184); see also Shanes 1990, pp.207–[12].
Cook and Wedderburn V 1904, p.244 and note.
Quoted in Rawlinson 1906, p.171.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.276 no.434, pl.439 (colour).
Andrew Wilton in Wilton and Turner 1990, p.58.
Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London 1986, pp.256, 258 no.180, engraving reproduced p.258.
Ibid., reproduced p.117 (colour), pp.258–9 no.181; see also p.259 nos.182–4.
Nicholson 1990, p.172.
Wilton and Turner 1990, p.58.
Shanes 1990, p.210.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.356 no.492, reproduced p.82 pl.80.
Finberg 1909, I, p.226.
Finberg 1924, p.294 nos.73 (g) and (h); Forrester 1996, pp.135, 136 notes 4 and 5.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.234–5 no.382, pl.379 (colour).
Ibid., pp.244–5 no.395, pl.399 (colour).
Forrester 1996, p.135; see also Finley 1999, p.52.
Forrester 1996, pp.161–3 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.159 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.163 (transcribed).
Ibid., p.160 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.144–69; 1906, pp.169–96; Finberg 1924, pp.287–365.
Rawlinson 1878, p.146.
Technical notes:
The sheet is not watermarked, but its batch has been identified as ‘J Whatman | 1801’.1 Pencil drawing is present, but was not followed closely for Scylla, and another figure indicated in the foreground was not painted in, as discussed above. The sky was washed evenly at first, then the lights and sun washed out and darks washed in. Waves on the shore were stopped-out, then washed over with watercolour. There is no scratching out, all the lights being muted because they were washed out incompletely. The brushstrokes are very fine. The overall colour is a very warm brown, due to the use of an Indian red pigment.2
There is a slight architectural drawing on the verso (D41516), as well as the ‘Glaucus. Scylla’ inscription mentioned above above.

Matthew Imms
August 2009

Forrester 1996, p.135 (analysis by Peter Bower, acknowledged p.8).
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Glaucus and Scylla c.1810–15 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-glaucus-and-scylla-r1131774, accessed 23 June 2024.