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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Greenwich Hospital, for Rogers's 'Poems' c.1830-2

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Greenwich Hospital, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’ circa 1830–2
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 176
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 107 x 155 mm on white wove paper, 190 x 254 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 176’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Greenwich Hospital was engraved by Edward Goodall and published as an illustration to Part II of a long poem entitled ‘The Pleasures of Memory’ in the 1834 edition of Rogers’s Poems.1 While the first section of the poem explores the relationship between memory and the senses, the next section discusses memory as the preserve of ‘the treasures of art and science, history and philosophy’.2 This idea is elucidated with the example of Greenwich Hospital:
Go, with old Thames, view Chelsea’s glorious pile;
And ask the shattered hero, whence his smile?
Go, view the splendid domes of Greenwich – Go,
And own what raptures from Reflection flow.
Hail, noblest structures imagined in the wave!
A nation’s grateful tribute to the brave.
Hail, blest retreats from war and shipwreck, hail!
That oft arrest the wondering stranger’s sail.
(Poems, p.33)
Turner highlighted this passage with pencil lines in the margin of his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI p.39) and chose to picture the ‘splendid domes’ of Greenwich hospital in his illustration. The institution was established at the end of the seventeenth century as a residential home for retired sailors and remained open to pensioners until 1869. It represented a triumph of British architecture, having been designed by a number of great names including John Webb (1611–1642) and Christopher Wren (1632–1723). Turner’s drawing showcases the scale and elaborate façade of the building, while the myriad boats in the foreground highlight the hospital’s long-standing association with the British navy.
A reviewer in the Athenaeum singled this illustration out for praise: ‘From woods and brooks, Turner boldly wafts us to the Thames, puts us into a boat, and bids us admire the glories of Greenwich; the architecture of Wren, and the majestic river, harmonize well.’3 Another contemporary critic was especially pleased with the figure standing by a telescope in the left-hand foreground: ‘Every one must remember the bring-em-nears as they called their telescopes, by the loan of which they realise a few pence during the summer months’.4
There is one study for the vignette (see Tate D27611; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 94). Turner had also produced several earlier sketches of Greenwich Hospital, for example in the Wilson sketchbook (Tate D01167–8; Turner Bequest XXXVII 50–1), the Greenwich sketchbook (Tate D06769, D06773; Turner Bequest CII 25a, 27a), and the Skies sketchbook (Tate D12524; Turner Bequest CLVIII 68). The building also famously appears in a view from the south in Turner’s oil painting, London from Greenwich exhibited 1809 (Tate, N00483).5 However, in common with another vignette, Traitor’s Gate (see Tate D27694; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 177), Greenwich Hospital shows a local London landmark that would have been very familiar to Turner but which hardly appears elsewhere in his oeuvre.
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.33; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.377. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04673).
Rogers 1834, p.25.
Athenaeum, no. 320, 14 December 1833, p.841.
Arnold’s Magazine of the Fine Arts, vol.3, no.3, Jan 1734, p.275. Quoted in Piggott 1993, p.83.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.97.
Technical notes:
Watermark: [illegible]
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘12’ top centre and ‘19 | b’ centre and ‘CCLXXX 176’ bottom
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 176’ bottom centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Greenwich Hospital, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’ c.1830–2 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, 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-greenwich-hospital-for-rogerss-poems-r1133340, accessed 24 November 2020.