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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Procris and Cephalus c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Procris and Cephalus circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII P
Pencil and watercolour on off-white wove writing paper, 185 x 260 mm;
Watermark ‘1794 | J Whatman
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and George Clint, ‘Procris and Cephalus.’, published Turner, 14 February 1812
Cephalus relates the tragic tale of his wife Procris’s accidental death in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. While out hunting, he assumed a sound from the undergrowth – his wife following him – was caused by a wild animal, and hurled his spear, inflicting a mortal wound. 1 It is one of several Liber subjects based on stories of love and/or transformation in the Metamorphoses: the others are Aesacus and Hesperie and Glaucus and Scylla (see Tate D08166, D08170; Turner Bequest CXVIII L, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII P), and Appulia in Search of Apullus, Pan and Syrinx and Narcissus and Echo.2
Turner’s Liber Studiorum design was not based on an existing work of his own. The design has affinities with Richard Earlom’s Liber Veritatis print after Claude Lorrain (see general Liber introduction), no.100 (Landscape with the Death of Procris);3 by 1799, a small, atmospheric version in oils, now ascribed to the studio of Claude, had entered the collection of the artist and connoisseur Sir George Beaumont,4 who presented it to the nation in 1826 (National Gallery, London) – it is possible that Turner knew of it at the time he worked on his drawing, although the common elements of the figures and dog in the foreground of a wooded scene at sunset became largely rearranged. Turner may also have known the painting by Benjamin West showing the Death of Procris (Art Institute of Chicago), which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771, when it was engraved in reverse; it shows Procris reclining in the foreground with Cephalus attending her, a hunting dog, and a wooded background with the sky dramatically lit above the two figures.5
Ruskin wrote extensively on the composition. In Modern Painters, he regarded the landscape as a reminiscence of ‘English forest glades’, comparable to the setting for the Liber design Aesacus and Hesperie (see Tate D08166; Turner Bequest CXVIII L).6 Declaring that he knew ‘of no landscape more purely or magnificently imaginative, or bearing more distinct evidence of the relative and simultaneous conception of the parts’, he explored at length the interrelationships of the trees;7 in an unpublished passage he wrote of the ‘divine trees of dark and pensive power, their leaves closed together in a cloud of night; beneath them, avenues where the nymphs and wood-gods wander.’8
Reading the time of day as sunset, he noted ‘the sympathy of those faint rays that are just drawing back and dying between the trunks of the far-off forest, with the ebbing life of the nymph’, comparing it to a similar (albeit later) image of sunset and death in Shelley’s poetry,9 and seeing the subject as one of Turner’s pessimistic treatments of ‘human love’ in the Liber.10 Writing of it in conjunction with Aesacus and Hesperie, he noted: ‘In the purist landscape, the human subject is the immortality of the soul by the faithfulness of love: in both the Turner subjects it is the death of the body by the impatience and error of love.’ Since Procris is ‘an earth-nymph, ... Turner has put her death under this deep shade of trees, the sun withdrawing his last ray; and why he has put beside her the low type of an animal’s pain, a dog licking its wounded paw.’11 However, Turner’s treatment of light in the engraved plate has led to speculation that he intended to represent early morning, as in the original story, where Cephalus invokes the wind, Aura, and causes Procris’s unnecessarily jealous presence, Cephalus having previously been loved by the goddess of the dawn, Aurora – the trajectory of the shafts of light introduced between the distant trees to the right terminates in the fatal arrow.12
The composition is recorded, as ‘6[:] 5 Cephalus and Procris’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)13 dated by Finberg and Gillian Forrester to before the middle of 1808.14 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Cephalus and Procris’, in a list of ‘Historical’ subjects (Tate D12170; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 30a).15
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by George Clint, bears the publication date 14 February 1812 and was issued to subscribers as ‘Procris and Cephalus.’ in part 8 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.37–41;16 see also Tate D08140, D08141, D08142; Turner Bequest CXVII M, N, O). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (A00992) and the published engraving (A00993). It is one of eight published Liber Studiorum subjects in Turner’s ‘Historical’ category (see also Tate D08106, D08120, D08139, D08149, D08162, D08166, D08169; Turner Bequest CXVI E, CXVIII H, L, O, Vaughan Bequest CXVI S, CXVII L, U).
Thomas Lupton etched and engraved a facsimile of the print in 1864 as one of an unpublished series for the London dealer Colnaghi17 (see general Liber introduction). Frank Short included this composition18 among his Twelve Subjects from the Liber Studiorum of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. Etched and Mezzotinted by Frank Short (published by Robert Dunthorne of the Rembrandt Gallery, London, between 1885 and 1888), the first series of his Liber interpretations (Tate T05047;19 see general Liber introduction).
Ovid, Metamorphoses, VII. 760–865 (particularly 835–62).
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.I, pl.100; from 1646 original drawing by Claude Lorrain (British Museum, London, 1957–12–14–106: Michael Kitson, Claude Lorrain: Liber Veritatis, London 1978, p.115, reproduced pl.100); see also Eric Shanes, Turner’s Human Landscape, London 1990, pp.173–4.
Felicity Owen, David Blayney Brown and John Leighton, ‘Noble and Patriotic’: The Beaumont Gift, 1828, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 1988, p.44 no.7, reproduced p.[45] (colour)
Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London 1986, p.242 no.150, reproduced.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.236.
Ibid., IV 1903, p.245
Transcribed in ibid., VII 1903, p.480.
Ibid., IV 1903, p.309; see Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alastor (1816), 649–53, quoted in footnote 2.
Ibid., VII 1903, p.434.
Lectures on Landscape, in ibid., XXII 1906, pp.65, 67
See letter from G. Webster Thompson, quoted in Brooke 1885, p.136.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.163 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.77–85; 1906, pp.90–100; Finberg 1924, pp.145–64.
Rawlinson 1878, p.197; 1906, p.232; Finberg 1924, p.164.
Hardie 1938, pp.47–8 no.6.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986 – 88, London 1996, p.70.
Technical notes:
The materials on this sheet are very similar to those used for From Spenser’s Fairy Queen, another ‘Historical’ Liber composition of around the same date (Tate D08139; Turner Bequest CXVII L). Gillian Forrester has suggested that they may have been intended as a pair.1 The paper was not washed initially. The preliminary pencil outlines were not all followed by watercolour work, when the postures of the figures were revised. Washing was followed by brushstrokes with wet paint, and minor scratching-out. Curling brushstrokes indicate the foliage, and washing-out was used for the lights in the sky. The overall very warm brown colour stems from the use of an Indian red shade and a dark brown pigment.2
Forrester 1996, p.24 note 74.
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files.
Blank, save for inscription.
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – P’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Procris and Cephalus c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2008, 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-procris-and-cephalus-r1131746, accessed 19 June 2024.