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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Notes on Sir Joshua Reynolds's 'Discourses' (Inscriptions by Turner) 1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 74 Verso:
Notes on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s ‘Discourses’ (Inscriptions by Turner) 1808
Turner Bequest CVI 71a
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove paper, 185 x 108 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner’s notes commenced here continue on folio 73 verso of the sketchbook (D07217; Turner Bequest CVI 70a); for convenience they are transcribed in full here:
Sir Joshua’s 1st discourse consists of seven pages. 
29 lines of 29 letters only | 
435           2 Discourse.  13 Pages.  Leaves 
13,615 lines 
The history of errors [properly managed inserted] shortens the road | to truth. 2 Discourse. | The a Student from the stock of Ideas | collects and not by ... following | any favourite beyond where that mas|ter excells. Yet not blindly to any | authority however great, but not to | rely but be afraid of trusting his | own judgement [& of deviating into any track inserted without deleted] which he | cannot find the Footsteps of some famous | master | A great part of every composition is | commonplace – 2 dis. – therefore G Copying | delusive | By comparison with originals deficiencies | are ... more sensibly than by precepts. | The true principles of Ptg. will mingle with | your thoughts. Ideas fixed by sensible objects [continued on folio 73 verso] will be certain and defective and sinking | deeper in the mind will not only be just | but more lasting than those presented to you | by precepts only, wh. will always be fleeting | variable and undetermined. 2 dis. | Not to have any dependence upon [yr own inserted] Genius. | If you have any great talents industry will | improve them, if you have but moderate abilities | industry will improve them. Nothing denied to | well directed labours. Assiduity unabated by | difficulty. A disposition eagerly directed to | its pursuits will produce effects similar to those | wh. some call the result of natural powers. | 2 discourse
Finberg, confirming that Turner’s source was the second of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Royal Academy Discourses, quotes some of the original text; as is often the case, Turner has summarised the original text and altered some words, so that, for example, ‘ideas [thus] fixed by sensible objects’ become ‘defective’ instead of ‘definitive’. Discourse 2 was first given by Reynolds in 1769. It was devoted to ‘The Course and Order of Study’.
Turner’s analysis of page and word count and number of letters indicates that the length and language of Reynolds’s prose was as much the object of his attention while preparing for his lectures as the Academy’s Professor of Perspective as its content and argument.

David Blayney Brown
July 2010

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Notes on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s ‘Discourses’ (Inscriptions by Turner) 1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, July 2010, 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-notes-on-sir-joshua-reynoldss-discourses-inscriptions-by-r1129643, accessed 22 April 2021.