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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: A Draft of Poetry ?1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Inscription by Turner: A Draft of Poetry ?1840
Pencil on white wove paper, 244 x 304 mm
Watermark ‘C Ansell | 1828’
Inscribed by Turner in pencil with lines of poetry towards top (see main catalogue entry)
Inscribed in pencil ‘52’ top left, ‘6’ top centre, and ‘N.G. 70’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCCXVI – 25’ over Turner Bequest monogram towards bottom centre
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The watercolour on the recto, Tate D32162 (Turner Bequest CCCXVI 25), is generally agreed to be a sunset view of the Lagoon near Venice, associated with Turner’s 1840 visit. This reading of the time of day depicted would seem to be confirmed by the lines confidently but often illegibly inscribed in pencil above the centre of this side (not recorded in Finberg’s 1909 Inventory1):
Thy [?endless spires and towers] gleam the last of the [...] ray
And yet the Queen of [?Eve] . . [...] and [?proud ...]
[...] in the long [...]
This reading is necessarily very tentative, even in terms of the unqualified words. Lindsay Stainton has suggested it may be a quotation, ‘which seems to refer to the setting sun’;2 James Hamilton suggested that if we ‘read in the first line the words “... gleam the last of the [..?..] ray” we are perhaps witnessing Turner’s final farewell to the crumbling city’, perhaps influenced by John Ruskin’s one-time title for the recto, ‘Farewell to Venice’. Similarly, Ian Warrell, having first noted the lines as being simply ‘about the sunset’,3 subsequently deciphered references to ‘towers illuminated by the last gleams of a setting sun, presumably musing on the fate of Venice’.4
Elsewhere in this grouping, a moonlit Lagoon scene, Tate D36192 (Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 334), has similarly fragmentary descriptive verse on the back (D40182); for a wider discussion of poetry in relation to Turner’s Venetian subjects, see the Introduction to this subsection.
See A.J. Finberg, A Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest, London 1909, vol.II, p.1020.
Stainton 1985, p.63.
Warrell 1995, p.115; see also p.116, and Taft 2004, p.216.
Warrell 2003, p.236.
Technical notes:
See under the recto (D32162) for the relationship of this sheet to numerous others used for Venetian subjects around 1840.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: A Draft of Poetry ?1840 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, September 2018, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2019, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-inscription-by-turner-a-draft-of-poetry-r1196456, accessed 22 May 2022.